Giraffe conservation may call for some balancing of fauna ecology

06Dec 2019
The Guardian
Giraffe conservation may call for some balancing of fauna ecology

EXPERTS have been working on the first National Giraffe Conservation Action Plan, which has just launched in Arusha, with the iconic tall mammals reportedly in serious danger of extinction.

That isn’t how we normally think of giraffes, as they aren’t as seductive for tourism as the ‘big cats’ traditionally crowding conservation talk. And it only means that conservation is being diversified a bit.

Experts meeting for the launch and explaining what the strategic plan is all about said execution will take five years starting next month.

The plan includes a countrywide census to establish the population of the wildlife species, where the principal threat is said to relate to drastic changes in the animals’ natural habitats. That reference is both true and too broad, as giraffes are range animals rather than a closed-habitat type.

Documentation being used at that event was basically that, at the moment, Tanzania has an estimated population of 30,000 giraffes but they are facing a number of threats – including diseases. That sounds rather normal unless there is a strange disease, like the killer one that struck lions a decade ago or thereabouts.

The reported diseases are ‘giraffe ear disease’ which originated from Mikumi National Park and ‘giraffe skin disease’, which was first reported in Ruaha National Park. There are promising indications of both being tamed.

It is viruses which have a habit of killing instantly, not some parasites usually doing little more than merely touching the skin or ear.

Natural Resources and Tourism minister Dr Hamisi Kigwangalla says that, the disease problem apart, one catalyst speeding up the giraffe’s extinction is loss of habitats.

He warns that human activities have encroached reserved areas, reducing the wildlife territory, noting that the portion of territory we have left for wildlife habitats in many cases equals a medium- sized European country.

We are further told, or rather yet again warned, that Tanzania loses an average of 400,000 hectares of forest cover each year, and has witnessed a 15 per cent reduction in natural vegetation cover in the last decade.

These are areas where policy action and embedded global support can make a difference, for instance by spreading out drip irrigation methods to obtain enough moisture and a minimum of fertiliser as well as throwing tree seeds to germinate.

There is another point worth underlining: that excessive focus on human activities may actually miss the point, as non-poaching activity scarcely diminishes the variety of animals in national parks and game reserves.

Land area currently reserved for wildlife is an assurance that particular species and any others have ample space to roam, and the issue is whether other species which ought to have predators as well for being overly protected.

It would also surely pay for scientists to check fauna ecosystems and see if there is need to reduce the number of group hunters but not so much the scavengers, this by taking a sober assessment of their impact on specific species. Keeping heaping the blame on human activities alone all the time will be to little avail.

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