ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:
In southern Africa, 14 giraffes recently returned to their native Angola after an over 800-mile journey from neighboring Namibia. It's part of an effort by Angola's government and nonprofit groups to restore the wildlife of a country that was devastated by war in the last quarter of the 20th century. Stephanie Fennessy is the executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which helped fund the move, and she joins us now. Welcome.
STEPHANIE FENNESSY: Hi, Adrian. Thanks for having me.
FLORIDO: Thanks for being here. The first thing that comes to mind when you hear a story about giraffes traveling over 800 miles is these are big animals. How does that work?
FENNESSY: Yeah, I always say with great difficulty. Moving a giraffe is not an easy feat. So, yeah, you have to first capture them, kind of herd them into a truck and then keep them in this truck for, in this case, 36 hours. And...
FENNESSY: Yeah, they're fully awake the whole time. They're not sedated. And then you just need a very good driver who drives carefully and gets them to their final destination.
FLORIDO: These are Angolan giraffes, and they are native to Angola. So how did they end up basically extinct in Angola while you have a population next door in Namibia?
FENNESSY: Yeah. So they lived - yeah, used to live in Angola, Namibia, Botswana and parts of Zambia. But during the civil unrest and civil war in Angola - giraffe are really easy animal to poach. And there's a lot of meat on them, so they were really war fodder and went extinct during the civil unrest in the country. But now the country is peaceful again, has been for a few years, and partners like African Parks are now managing a few of the national parks, including Iona National Park. So, yeah, we are starting to restock these parks with wildlife, and luckily, we started with giraffe.
FLORIDO: And why is it so important to get these giraffes back to their native land?
FENNESSY: I mean, obviously, any animal is important for biodiversity and for conservation and to have the right mix of animals in a country. So giraffe are landscape shapers. They're pollinators, so they're an important part of the ecosystem. But it's also obviously a prestigious project. I mean, Angola without Angolan giraffes sounds a little bit ridiculous; doesn't it?
FLORIDO: Well, outside of Angola, how are giraffe populations doing across the continent?
FENNESSY: That's actually a great question. And most people don't realize that giraffe are in real trouble. There's only about 117,000 giraffe remaining in all of Africa. And just to put that into perspective, there is now one giraffe for every four elephant. That means there is four times as many elephant in Africa as giraffe. And I'm not saying elephant don't need help. I mean, obviously, they're also in trouble. But if the numbers are that bad, maybe giraffe needs some attention, too.
FLORIDO: Well, can you describe for me the moment when you released these giraffes into their new home? What was that like, and how are they doing?
FENNESSY: I mean, it's always amazing to see giraffe put their first steps into a new environment where they have been locally extinct for a long time. I mean, it's really emotional. Obviously, the move has been really stressful - years in the making. So when it finally happens, it's just a big relief, and you're exhilarated. It's really, really exciting. And, yeah, the giraffe are doing well. We tagged most of them with the GPS satellite tracker, so I can sit now here in my office and look where they move. And they are just exploring their new habitat and finding their feet.
FLORIDO: Well, I wish you the best of luck. I've been speaking with Stephanie Fennessy, executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Thank you.
FENNESSY: Well, thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAMIROQUAI SONG, "SPACE COWBOY")
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