A baby giraffe greets its mother
The last special giraffe memory I’d like to tell you about happened near the end of last year’s trip to Kenya. We’d seen plenty of giraffes, but on the way home to the camp, anticipating a glass of red wine with friends round the camp fire, we came across a baby giraffe with its mother. At first sight, it didn’t look like a baby: it was taller than I am and was running significantly faster than I can (ok, giraffes can run very fast, and I’m rubbish at running). The give-away was the still visible dried umbilical cord. This unexpectedly cute giant, gleefully sprinting around after its mother for the sheer fun of it, was only a few days old and had actually been born during our stay in the Masai Mara. It hadn’t been there when we arrived at House in the Wild eight days earlier. What a privilege to witness.
A privilege that my children’s children might not get to see.
Along with a number of high profile, iconic species around the world, giraffes are declining at an alarming rate: there are now only 97,000 giraffes in the wild. That’s 55,000 fewer than 30 years ago. To put it bluntly, they’re in short supply and at that rate, they might become extinct in the near future. The IUCN Red List has reclassified giraffes as ‘vulnerable’ after a nearly 40% reduction in numbers. The causes are the usual toxic mixture of poaching and habitat loss / degradation due to human encroachment, agriculture and industry, as well as war to mention just some of the factors. Giraffes and their close relatives, the endangered okapis are relatively poorly studied and receive limited conservation efforts and funding, but the IUCN World Conservation Congress drew up plans in September to attempt to reverse the decline.
I have a theory about the decline of such iconic animals as giraffes and lions and tigers and cheetahs et al. It goes something along the lines that we don’t actually believe an animal like the giraffe could possibly go extinct because photographs of these animals are so plentiful and ubiquitous and the creatures are so embedded in our consciousness that it’s impossible to connect with the notion that they might disappear entirely. That’s a dangerous assumption.
During my time in Kenya this year I made a short film about our wildlife experiences in the Masai Mara, which includes footage of giraffes. It’s unthinkable that in a few decades, there might be no more giraffes to film.