It’s World Giraffe Day, and the gentle giants are in trouble

Digital Originals

HALIFAX, Pa. (WHTM) — It is mealtime for Spike, Bakari and Tucker, three reticulated giraffes who make their home at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park. The menu includes special feed created just for the giraffes’ needs, and their favorite greens, acacia leaves, which they strip off the branches.

“Working with a giraffe is actually quite interesting,” Kelsey Tobias, Supervisor of the Lake Tobias giraffe department said. “They all have a very unique personality, and they’re very fun to work with.”

All three of the giraffes are male.

“Out in the wild, there are actually two different groups of giraffes,” Tobias said. “You’ll have a breeding group, which is one male and a bunch of females, and then you’ll have your bachelor group, with all of the extra males, that kind of stick together, and that’s kind of what we’re replicating here at Lake Tobias.”

Beautiful, friendly and inquisitive, they are representatives of one of the iconic animals of the African continent, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as vulnerable to extinction.

“The giraffe numbers are slowly declining in Africa. The numbers have dropped over thirty percent in just a few years for the reticulated giraffes,” Tobias said.

The reasons for the decline are many and mostly the fault of mankind. Habitat loss, their range is a fraction of what it once was, and poaching are at the top of the list. It’s for that reason the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, an organization working in Africa to restore giraffe populations, established World Giraffe Day, both to celebrate the giraffe and remind people they’re in dire straits.

The situation may be worse than we thought. For years it was believed giraffes were all one species, Giraffa camelopardalis, and that all the variations in size and color were just subspecies. DNA research now suggests there are several species of giraffe, but scientists have yet to pin down how many. Suggestions have ranged from two to nine. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation lists four species-Masai, southern, northern and reticulated giraffes.

Plus, there are still subspecies. So, instead of one vulnerable species, we’re probably dealing with multiple endangered species.

“A lot of countries are recognizing them as endangered species at the time, unfortunately the U.S. is not one of them,” Tobias said.

The backstory? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implements the Endangered Species Act. In 2017 the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned FWS to recognize giraffes as endangered. By law, the agency had to respond within 90 days. A year and a half later, having received no response, the coalition sued. FWS then issued a finding in April 2019 that the endangerment listing “may be warranted.” The giraffes still are not on the FWS Endangered Species List.

Lake Tobias is raising funds to save giraffes, using the giraffes themselves. Using non-toxic paint, organic food coloring, and a little giraffe feed as incentives, the giraffes are creating paintings, which are then sold.

“All of the proceeds from our paintings,” Tobias said. “Go to the World Giraffe Foundation, and they send it over to Africa for research and conservation purposes.”

Looking to the future, Kelsey Tobias says they might make more direct contributions to the giraffe populations.

“At one point we’re hoping to get some females, but at this time we’re just doing our bachelor herd,” Tobias said.

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