The situation for Kordofan giraffes in Cameroon’s Bénoué National Park is growing increasingly dire, with a new study revealing that local extinction may be a mere 15 years away if poaching continues at its current rate.
Bénoué National Park is home to one of the last populations of the Kordofan giraffe, a Critically Endangered species with fewer than 50 individuals remaining within the park’s confines. The Bristol Zoological Society has been actively engaged in conservation efforts since 2017, seeking to protect and preserve this highly-threatened mammal.
Poaching has long been recognized as a significant threat to the giraffe population, but the actual evidence to quantify its impact has been mostly anecdotal. Illegal hunters often target giraffes for various reasons, including their meat, pelts, bones, hair, and tails – products that are highly valued in certain cultures.
A team of researchers from Bristol Vet School and Bristol Zoological Society decided to take a more analytical approach, utilizing a population modeling technique to evaluate different conservation strategies.
The experts assessed interventions such as anti-poaching measures, population supplementation, and habitat protection, simulating each individually and in combination to understand their effects on the giraffes’ viability.
The results were alarming. The model indicated that if one male and one female giraffe were poached each year, the average time to extinction for the population would be a mere 15.3 years.
The study also found that the poaching of female giraffes had an even more profound impact on population sustainability.
Kane Colston, the study’s lead author, who conducted the research as part of his Master’s degree at Bristol Vet School in conjunction with Bristol Zoological Society, emphasized the gravity of the situation.
“Our findings confirm anti-poaching measures appear the most significant for population viability,” said Colston. “The extent of poaching in Bénoué National Park is still unclear as far higher giraffe poaching rates have been reported in other national parks, but recent confirmed reports of the poaching of two giraffes in a period of just three months highlight the urgency of conservation intervention.”
“These findings really underscore the magnitude of the threat facing Bénoué National Park’s Kordofan giraffe and highlight the importance of our conservation work in the area,” said Dr. Sam Penny, the project lead from Bristol Zoological Society.
“We will continue to work with the park’s Conservation Service and our partner NGO Sekakoh to ensure anti-poaching initiatives are prioritised within the landscape.”
The study’s conclusions highlight the urgent need for action. Anti-poaching initiatives, along with protecting wildlife corridors to aid dispersal, must be an immediate priority.
The situation for the Kordofan giraffes in Cameroon’s Bénoué National Park is a stark reminder that every minute counts in the fight against extinction. Time is running out, but with the right strategies, there may still be hope.
The Kordofan giraffe, scientifically known as Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum, is one of the nine subspecies of giraffe. They’re native to some of the most unstable regions in Africa, including southern Chad, Central African Republic, northern Cameroon, and the northeastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kordofan giraffes are similar to other giraffes in their iconic stature and long necks, but they have a distinct color pattern. Their patches are pale and irregular compared to other subspecies and can sometimes cover their legs as well. Adult males can reach up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height, while females are slightly shorter.
Their habitat consists primarily of savannahs, grasslands, and open woodlands where they have access to a diet of leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits from over 100 different plant species. Acacia trees are particularly favored.
These giraffes rely on their long, prehensile tongues to help them forage in these tall trees. The Kordofan giraffes are also known for their unique feeding strategy, which includes both “browsing” and “grazing,” depending upon the food and water availability.
As with other giraffe subspecies, the Kordofan giraffe’s population has been impacted by a range of threats including habitat loss, civil unrest, and illegal hunting or poaching. They are hunted for their meat and hide, and also suffer from the ongoing destruction of their natural habitats due to agriculture and other human activities.