Giraffe and Juvenile
Credit: Steve Slater (wildlife_encounters on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Giraffes "necking"flowcomm on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.o GenericIn a Discovery News article Giraffe Population Drops 40 Percent in 15 Years, I was stunned to learn that the giraffe population has dropped so dramatically - from 140,000 to 80,000. I can understand that habitat loss and human encroachment plays a part, but to find out they are being hunted and poached had me wondering why.

Unlike rhinoceroses and elephants, giraffes don't have horns or tusks. But they do have thick patterned skin that is made into clothing, bags, belts, footwear, hats, and even drum covers. For thousands of years, giraffe hair has been made into adornments such as bracelets and necklaces.

Yet the most disturbing reason they are hunted is the belief (mainly in Tanzania) that giraffe bone marrow and brains can cure people with HIV-AIDS. In an ABC news report by Louise Dewast, researcher Zoe Muller added "freshly severed heads and giraffe bones can fetch prices of up to $140 per piece."

Dr. Julian Fennessy talks about Giraffe Conservation

Published on Sept. 27th, 2014 by Southwest Florida Television

The Most Threatened Giraffe Species

West African giraffe near Kouré, NigerClémence Delmas (Wikipedia) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedThere are nine subspecies of giraffes. The most threatened species is the West African (aka Nigerian) giraffe - only 300 are estimated to be left.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species statistics (last updated in 2010), possibly extinct species are the Angola and Mali giraffe; regionally extinct are the Eritrea, Guinea, Mauritania, and Senegal giraffe.

Wow, how come we didn't hear more about this, I wondered.

Giraffes are gentle, quiet giants. Unfortunately, this makes them an easy kill for hunters and poachers. Their meat provides both a source of food and income for people in rural areas of Africa.

Baby GiraffeJim Bowen (jamiedfw on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAccording to GiraffeWorlds, adult giraffes have only one significant natural predator - lions. But only about one in four giraffe calves survives to reach adulthood.

Calves rest lying down (and need to more often in their first year of life) which makes them an easy target for leopards, lions, hyenas, and wild dogs.

Giraffes normally give birth to one calf and their gestation period is long at 15 months. So if a calf dies, it usually takes another couple of years for another one to be born. And as their numbers dwindle, finding a mate could take even longer in the wild. Their rate of reproduction, as a result, is slowed even further.

Ossicones are Ossified Cartilage Covered in Skin

Giraffe(at)ZirafahSyed Abdul Khaliq on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericI always thought the two antenna-like structures on a giraffe's head were related to their sense of hearing or proprioception. I figure it must be dizzying to have your head up that high.

Apparently, they are full of blood vessels which probably helps giraffes maintain a stable body temperature (known as thermoregulation). Another reason for them appears to be during combat, particularly when males compete for a mate.

These ossicones are useful in determining the sex of giraffes. In females and calves, they have tufts of hair on top and are generally thinner. In calves, they are not yet fused to the head, so they tend to lie flatter (which helps them pass through the birth canal). In adult males, they are hairless (due to sparring), thicker and resemble bald knobs on top. Some subspecies of males grow a second set of ossicones behind the first pair.

The Poaching of Elephants

It's a tragic statistic that in 2013 approximately 20,000 elephants were killed in Tanzania and the Congo. In China, ivory can still be sold domestically. This has driven up the the demand and value of elephant tusks.

The problem is that poachers are now consuming giraffe meat while they hunt down elephants.

In a takepart article by John R. Platt, Dr. Julian Fennessy (shown in the first video) stated: "Giraffe[s] are suffering as a result of indiscriminate killing for ivory."

And What About Curing HIV-AIDS?

Giraffe with Red-billed OxpeckerChris Eason on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.o GenericIn a 2004 edition of The Aurusha Times, it states that the rumour surrounding giraffe brain and bone marrow as a cure for HIV-AIDS stemmed from herbal medicine practitioners.

After 12 giraffes were slaughtered at Naiti village of Monduli District (in Tanzania), journalists discovered that it had been a longstanding belief in those parts that giraffe bone marrow mixed with some "special" herbs could revive bedridden HIV-AIDS victims.

A physician at Mount Meru Hospital dismissed it as a joke and concluded that people using it as cure for HIV-AIDS was proof that people were willing to try anything. Sadly, I believe some "health" practitioners take advantage of people who are dying - similar to the way rhino horn has been falsely touted as a cure for cancer.

Conservation Efforts

25 Days oldSarah Laval on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericDr. Julian Fennessy is the Executive Director and Conservation Scientist & Trustee of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. 

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) is dedicated to securing a future for all giraffe populations and giraffe subspecies in the wild.

I was incredibly impressed by the resources listed on GFC's website including educational resources and eleven ongoing projects to save the world's tallest animal. For more in-depth information about the current status of giraffes, I highly recommend visiting the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Thank you for reading and sharing my article.

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