The giraffe, our national symbol that is exempted from the list of legal hunting game short of a presidential permit and is also used as the watermark on several banknotes, is facing a major threat.
Despite the adoration, the giraffe is a major target of poachers and not just any poacher:
“Poachers of giraffes are deadly marksmen and we suspect that some of them have a military training background,” a game warden (name withheld) told press at a gala dinner organised by the Wildlife Conservation Foundation of Tanzania (WCFT) in Dar es Salaam sometime back.
As a result, figures from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (Tawiri) indicate that in 2002 in Selous Game Reserve there were 6,712 giraffes, but the number decreased drastically with a 2006 count registering only 3,163 giraffes.
Though the figure rose again in 2010, it was linked to migration from Kenya’s Maasai Mara and not rebirth.
As if the threat from poachers is not enough, our revered national symbol has a new enemy, the Giraffe Skin Disease (GSD) a disorder that causes crusty lesions and lameness, leaving them vulnerable to predation and poaching.
This brings us to the question of responsibility on the part of authorities because despite the fact that GSD was first recorded 12 years ago, up to last week, scientists from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) still described GSD as unknown disease.
With over a decade head start, no control measures are in place. It was instead reported yesterday that now, almost 90 per cent of giraffes in Ruaha, the largest national park in Tanzania, have been affected.
Notably the scientists report that they have completed research on cause and cure. But all that is really known is that, it is bacteria based and that the cure remains elusive.
You would think that when the very national symbol of the country is in peril they would make it public knowledge and take action that would protect it, for after all we all have a stake in the well-being of our wildlife.
So why is it that over ten years down the road, there has been no mention of the threat that is affecting 90% of giraffes and is it any surprise that the giraffe population has declined by an estimated 30% in just the last decade?
It should be noted that in relation to the environment, scientists warn that the condition of the giraffe population is an indicator of the health of African savanna ecosystems, home to the greatest biodiversity on Earth.
A researcher and blogger (name with held) posted the following about an illegal game meat trader he met in Arusha in 2011:
...an Indian game restaurant/guesthouse owner, while not a poacher himself, did buy giraffe meat and exported it…he had his own network of supply which he sold to restaurants in Kenya under the cover of exporting beef.
The post is three years old yet no red flag has been raised and chances are he and others continue trafficking game meat in beef freezers.
Our national symbol is being attacked on two fronts, men poaching them, nature riddling it with disease yet response remains negligible.