Expanding Human Habitat Puts Giraffe Population At Risk
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There are more elephants left in the world than there are giraffes. Surprising, right? You don't think about giraffes as being at risk, but they are. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature says giraffes are on their way to becoming extinct. To talk more about this, we reached a leader in the effort to save these animals. His name is Julian Fennessy. He leads the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. And he joins us via Skype from Windhoek, which is the capital of Namibia. Mr. Fennessy, thanks so much for being with us.
JULIAN FENNESSY: Thanks, Rachel. It's really great to be with you.
MARTIN: Before we talk about why, let's talk about the scope of this problem. The giraffe population in Africa has fallen, I understand, by 40 percent over the last couple of decades. What are the real numbers we're talking about here?
FENNESSY: That's a little bit frightening. There's no doubt about it. So we estimate less than 100,000 giraffe in Africa. And three decades ago, we probably had 155,000. And if you look at probably 100 to 200 years ago, probably at least a million giraffe.
MARTIN: All right, so why is this happening?
FENNESSY: So basically, giraffe numbers are declining as a result of human population growth. And as a result of humans spreading out into new areas, we're losing habitat for giraffe in Africa. Just less areas that they can live and move and obviously, just be giraffe. You couple that with also impacts of disease, but mostly, in sort of East and Central Africa in the last 30 years there's been poaching, illegal hunting. So people in the civil war areas have been really, unfortunately, targeting giraffe because it's a large food source.
MARTIN: It's a food source. So it's not for pelts or some other part of the animal. It's for food.
FENNESSY: No, it's predominantly for food. In some areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the tail is sought after as a dowry for the bride. But yeah, mostly it is for food.
MARTIN: Your group has been working to help fix this problem by capturing giraffes and relocating them to places where they can thrive. How do you do that? And where do you move them to? I mean, can giraffes only survive in certain kinds of habitats?
FENNESSY: So throughout Africa, we've been working really closely with governments. That's the bottom line. If you don't work with governments, you're not going to make a difference. And in Uganda this last year alone, we helped set up two new populations of giraffe in Uganda, endangered Rothschild's giraffes. Capturing them is mad, it's fun, it's exciting, it's scary, it's all of these things at the one time. So you physically capture every individual with a rope. After using some drugs you get on top of it, tie it down, we put them on a truck and we took them across this little river called the Nile - obviously one of the mightiest rivers in the world. And to see the sight of giraffe across the Nile is absolutely phenomenal.
MARTIN: I was surprised to learn that there's also an issue when it comes to reproduction, right? There are four different species of giraffe, and they can't necessarily breed with one another?
FENNESSY: So a couple of months ago, we were lucky to publish that we believe there's at least four species of giraffe out there. What we've seen with these four species is that whilst many of them may live in and around the same area, they do not interbreed. So maybe they just don't like the look of each other. I'm not sure. Maybe there's some ecological factor. But what we want to do now is save them in their areas and save that biodiversity integrity.
MARTIN: Julian Fennessy is the co-founder and director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. He joined us via Skype from Windhoek, Namibia. Thank you so much for talking with us.
FENNESSY: Thanks, Rachel. I really appreciate it.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.