Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saving the icons of Africa

When I think of Africa, the first thing that comes to my mind is the iconic silhouette of a giraffe standing next to an acacia tree. Giraffes are truly symbolic of Africa. They are found no place else on earth, only in Africa. Standing tall with pride, these gentle animals spend their days walking across the plains. The giraffe is an integral part of the African ecosystem and sadly they are disappearing at alarming rates. Historically Reticulated giraffes could be seen from north-central Kenya to southern Somalia and Ethiopia. However, this is not what can be seen now. Reticulated giraffes have declined by over 80% in the last 15 years, going from 28,000 to about 4,700 today. That is a drastic decline that if not stopped, could lead to the extinction of these giraffes by 2019.

So why are these icons disappearing? Why are more people not talking about this?

As with other endangered species, the number one cause of decline is poaching. I could go on for hours about how much I loathe poachers - about how ignorant people are to believe that an animals bones can cure AIDS and cancer - about how inhumane it is to kill an animal and leave them to die a slow and painful death just so they can go home with some sort of trophy ... but I won't. Not now.

Habitat loss from development and agriculture, areas that have become uninhabitable because of over-grazing, competition for food and water with newly introduced species of livestock, and the simple fact that we just don't know enough about the iconic animals. We need to understand more about the giraffe and those who share a home with them in Africa so that we can do everything possible to save the giraffe.

I would like to share the story of how Dylan is helping to save the Reticulated giraffes ...

Last month while attending a Curators Club breakfast in San Diego, Dylan and I listened to a man talk about the plight of the giraffes. His name is David O'Connor and he is one of the Conservation Research Coordinators at San Diego Zoo Global. I will never forget his words, "There are less Reticulated giraffe than the endangered black rhino. At this rate, these giraffe will be extinct by 2019." What? Was I hearing this right? Why have I not heard about these staggering statistics before?

After hearing these words, I looked over at Dylan, His face said it all. We both knew how serious these numbers were since we have been big supporters of the rhino conservation efforts for several years now. Something told me this would be Dylan's next endeavor ... and I was right. After the breakfast Dylan walked up to David and asked how he could help save the giraffes. David told us about his conservation project that was being funded on Crowdrise and how all the money was going directly to help the giraffes in Africa. When we got home Dylan decided he didn't want to just donate to David's team, he wanted to join his team!

I helped Dylan set up his page and within a matter of minutes he was part of the team. His goal was $250 by Endangered Species Day. That only gave him 13 days, but he was determined to make it happen. A few tweets and Facebook posts later, Dylan had met his goal. In just 11 short days he had raised $250 for David's Giraffe Conservation Project.

Dylan's passion and determination to change the world continues to inspire me. If you would like to help him raise more funds for the Giraffe Conservation Project (so that David can reach his project goal of $60,000) you can click here to make a tax-deductible donation. Giraffe badly need our help, and right now that means funding for on the ground programs in East Africa that are working to save them.

In the words of David O'Connor, Giraffes are the forgotten megafauna. We still do not fully understand how they move across the landscape, how and what they eat, how many are left, their social structure, how they interact with people and livestock. As such, these giraffe are rapidly disappearing, with little notice. It is especially worrying as most of the giraffe's range is outside of protected areas, overlapping with pastoralist herders and small-scale agriculturalists.

Africa wouldn't be Africa without this iconic animal ... please help us save the giraffe.

All photos courtesy of David O'Connor.