Niger’s Giraffes Came Back From Extinction. Now They’re Poaching People’s Food

In the last three decades, 40 percent of the world’s giraffe population has died. But Niger, the third poorest country in the world, has remarkably reversed the trend — giving a second chance to Africa’s most threatened giraffe subspecies.

The West African giraffe once inhabited an area from the coast in Senegal to Lake Chad, deep in North Africa’s interior. But by 1996, drought, poaching, and habitat loss from growing human and livestock populations brought the population crashing down to near 50; the last giraffes were in southern Niger.

International NGO’s pressed Niger to save the giraffe — which adopted a conservation strategy, put in strict laws to preserve habitat, and placed big penalties for poaching. The new rules, in addition to the fact that no natural predators live near the current reserve, have helped the population grow by a factor of 12 — to more than 600 giraffes today.

But successful conservation has come with a new set of challenges.

Nearby the Kouré Giraffe Zone, local subsistence farmers are angry that giraffes are wreaking havoc on their farms. The reserve simply isn’t large enough to contain, or feed, the fast-growing population.

So ecotourism guides like Adamou Djogo, who help manage the reserve, also set up town halls for villagers once a month. He hears out their concerns, and in turn, hopes to help them understand why the giraffes are important for Niger’s development in the long run.

“People will are quick to say, the giraffes are doing this or that. Right away they think about the problems, but they don’t think about the advantages.” Djogo told VICE News. “We know that the giraffe is our national heritage — and even a global one.”

Last December, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, along with Niger’s government — relocated eight giraffes to the larger Gadabedji reserve. They hope to establish a new population so that these giraffes can find a new home to thrive.

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