Sunday, November 8, 2009

Giraffes in Niger


Wildlife in Niger has been in serious trouble form poachers and hungry people for many years. One species that has been extirpated from the region is the scimitar-horned oryx, seen here in Texas and most of the world’s remaining members of this species now reside in North America. Indeed several exist on private game ranches. In the late 1980s I visited one such ranch in Texas where a philanthropic oil man had give over a large chunk of his land to their propagation. One of our party asked him “Why don’t you send some back to Niger?"

His reply – “Why would I? Everyone and his brother has an AK47. The animals would not last a month.”

So, the recent story from the BBC webs site about the resurgence of the West African giraffe in Niger is all the more remarkable.

As the reporter Martin Plaut writes
“From a herd of 50 animals, careful conservation supported by Niger's government has seen their numbers rise to around 200.”

Mind you this is still only a fraction of what once was an enormous number of these remarkable animals that roamed right across the region all the way to the Atlantic coast.

As I wrote in my blog of December 31, 2008 there are now five recognized species of giraffe. You can see four of them in that blog, but I have never seen the West African species, the rarest of all. My only chance to do so would have been in northern Cameroon in 1996, but I was fully engaged in an elephant collaring project with New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. If you would like to read how very difficult this project was you can do in chapters 10 & 11 of The Trouble With Lions.

The good news in this BBC story is that the giraffes have been seen within 60 km of the country’s capital city Niamey and the government has banned all hunting in the hope that the animals will help with the tourist trade.

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