Giraffes are one of the most well known species around the world, yet until Julian Fennessy began researching them we knew next to nothing about them.
Did you know that if they were actually counted giraffes may be classified as endangered? I sure didn’t.
We spend an enlightening couple of hours with Steph Fennessy from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
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Why We Know So Little About Giraffes
We’re camped in Gobabis, about 2 and a half hours east of Windhoek, Namibia. I’m flashing through Facebook looking for people associated with wildlife conservation in this country.
Julian Fennessy, Giraffe Conservation Fund located in Windhoek.
I send of a quick message to him. It’s a long shot that we could meet at such short notice!
“I am in Windhoek, but currently on tour in the U.S. Steph is holding down the fort.” Julian gives me her email address. It’s now Friday and we’re traveling through Windhoek tomorrow.
Saturday finds us visiting with Steph over lunch after her kids swimming event. What an enlightening couple of hours.
Did you know that we had no idea until last November (2014) how many giraffes there really are in Africa? Or how many we’re losing? There are about 80,000 left with populations having declined about 40% the last decade and a half.
Did you know that we still don’t know if there is one giraffe species or several. Are there really nine sub species as has been widely accepted or are they each giraffes species in their own right, or then again adapted species like the giraffe in the deserts of Namibia? These desert giraffe reportedly never drink water and get all their moisture from plants. Research to shed clarity on the species issue is currently under way.
Did you know why the giraffe species (except for the Rothschild and Peralta) are Listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN? It’s not because the giraffe populations are so healthy, but because they have never been assessed.
You probably also didn’t know that if it wasn’t for Julian and Steph with the Giraffe Conservation Fund that we’d still be in the dark. Strange that practically no research about this popular well known species had never been conducted earlier.
But then again we chose the giraffe as the Nikela icon because it stands out, is so unusual, yet not knowing much about it other than it chews it’s cud and has to spread its legs to drink.
It was while Julian was doing his PhD and deciding whether to focus on elephants or giraffe that he discovered that resources and effort have been committed to the elephant over recent years but that our knowledge base and understanding of the status and behaviors of the giraffe was next to null. It seemed a no brained which he’d chose.
The Giraffe Conservation Fund operates in Namibia, yet is a UK based nonprofit. Julian and Steph started the organization in 2009 running it strictly part time while earning their keep with regular jobs. About a year ago they got into a rather unique situation, got introduced to a philanthropist, who cares about giraffes, and made it such that, if the lived frugally, they could devote full time to their cause for giraffe. To this day, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation remains the only nonprofit in the world focusing solely on giraffe.
“We’re trying to get giraffe on the map,” says Steph.
Sitting on the couch, one night over a few beers it came to them… giraffe need a special day! They picked June 21st. They talked to zoo keepers around the world about the idea and were totally surprised at the response. It seemed like they were just waiting for someone to finally give them a reason to celebrate this unique, much visited, sought out, yet obscure animal.
The first International Giraffe Day was a huge success, raising $80,000 for giraffe conservation via all the activities conducted by enthusiastic keepers for zoo attendees.
Since then they’ve found the world’s premiere zoos to be the perfect avenue to distribute their ongoing, ever growing body of knowledge and research. Of course Julian is also highly involved in conservation networks and is the international go-to expert for anything giraffe.
You’ve probably heard that elephants communicate via tummy rumbles. These sounds although barely audible, to us humans, can be heard by elephants kilometers away. What about giraffe, how do they communicate? They don’t roar or bark, grunt or groan… or as far as we know use tummy rumbles. Steph talks about observing giraffe and without any visible or audible sounds (to us humans) they all move on. How did they communicate? Giraffe communications and behaviors is something being studied right now. A film crew is capturing visual images while another crew is recording sound in an attempt to correlate physical movement with audible sounds… so at sometime in the not too distant future we may have some answers as to how giraffe ‘converse’.
Another important thing that we learned is that when counting species for classification purposes only those living in wild or semi wild places are included and not those kept in farming or captive type settings.
So what are the giraffe’s biggest threats?
To date poaching has been minimal, though reportedly elephant poachers are killing them more and more to supply themselves with meat. They’re easy to hunt and can feed many.
Sadly some trophy hunters are also getting their jollies shooting this placid beast.
As GCF’s circle of influence and their prominence grows we look forward to learning more about this iconic specie and about what we all can to to help protect it.
Thank you Steph and Julian for devoting your lives to studying them and thus assuring we keep them living free in the wilds.