Saving the last West African Giraffe
In July 2017, The Sahara Conservation Fund has joined forces with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Niger to work on a new Giraffe conservation project.
The main objective of the project is to offer better living conditions to the last remaining population of West African Giraffes and ensure their long-term survival. This small population of barely 600 individuals lives in Niger in the South of the country, where it is threatened with habitat loss and degradation.
The project aims to translocate the giraffes from their current site - the area of Kouré, some 80 km Southeast of Niamey - to a new one, the Gadabeji Game Reserve, in central Niger.
Urgent need of support
Distinguished by its light-colored spots, the West African giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta) previously ranged from Senegal to Lake Chad. The reasons for its decline include human population growth (with more intensive farming and hunting) and a series of droughts in the late 19th an 20th centuries.
The few animals that still live freely in the so-called "giraffe zone" (for information, the area of Kouré is included in the W Regional Biosphere Reserve) also encounter demographic pressure and the spread of agriculture, which threatens their habitat and force them into increasing conflict with people. For lack of natural food, they are occasionally forced to raid gardens and fields, robbing the farmers of their cow peas and mangos. Competition between giraffes and livestock can also be observed sometimes.
This worrying situation has already lead the Government of Niger to develop a Niger National Giraffe Conservation Strategy, the first of its kind. SCF and GCF provide financial and technical support to the Niger Government to help implement the strategy.
What has been done
The National Giraffe Conservation Strategy was updated in 2015 during a regional workshop.
It is on this occasion that the Gadabeji Game Reserve was deemed to be a suitable site, considering both the historical range of the giraffe and the good management of this protected area (designated in 2017 as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO).
GCF and SCF recruited a dedicated team in the country, including a Conservation Programme Officer responsible for giraffe and antelope conservation. The team was in charge of the fieldwork that would census the giraffe population from July to November, a preliminary step before translocation.
But they also worked with local people and their leaders to raise awareness of the giraffe’s plight and then need to move some individuals to new sites to improve their chances of survival.
What is the Plan?
The results of the census revealed an increase of some 11,7 % of the giraffe population in the area since the last 2016 survey, a very encouraging outcome. The overall group was estimated to be composed of about 607 individuals - 325 females and 291 males.
The team visited 9 villages in the current core area of giraffe distribution but also in the region of Maradi – Dakoro and Gadabeji. They met with the local administration and representatives including the Governor of Maradi, in order, to tell them more about the project, the purpose and activities related to the translocation, and when they were to begin. They reminded the assembled about their obligations as part of the regional workshop they had attended, where they had committed to facilitate and assist with the translocation.
Knowing now better the number of giraffes on site and the engagement of the communities, the translocation itself is expected to be carried out in late 2018. GCF and SCF are working hard to ensure the better moving conditions possible for the animals, to limit the stress of the journey.
Both organizations are also planning to monitor the translocated giraffes, keeping in mind our long-term ambition: to have a strong free-ranging group living in the wild to allow the population growth again and species' recovery.
To achieve this ambitious project, SCF and GCF, in close collaboration with PNFC (Projet Niger Fauna Corridors), are supporting the Government of Niger and the local NGO AVEN (Association pour la Valorisation de l'Environnement) to succeed in the implementation of the strategy. Besides, we are partnering with the local contributor ASGN (Association pour la Sauvegarde des Girafes au Niger) and GIZ in the region of Kouré and Fandou to monitor and survey the giraffe population.