For most of his life as a Samburu warrior, Lesaiton Lengoloni thought nothing of hunting giraffes, the graceful giants so common a feature of the Kenyan plains where he roamed.
“There was no particular pride in killing a giraffe, not like a lion... (But) a single giraffe could feed the village for more than a week,” the community elder told AFP, leaning on a walking stick and gazing out to the broad plateau of Laikipia.But fewer amble across his path these days: in Kenya, as across Africa, populations of the world’s tallest mammals are quietly, yet sharply, in decline.
Giraffe numbers across the continent fell 40 percent between 1985 and 2015, to just under 100,000 animals, according to the best figures available to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But unlike the clarion calls sounded over the catastrophic collapse of elephant, lion and rhino populations, less attention was paid to the giraffe’s private crisis.
“The giraffe is a big animal, and you can see it pretty easily in parks and reserves. This may have created a false impression that the species was doing well,” said Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN’s specialist group for giraffes and okapis.
The rate of decline is much higher in central and eastern regions, with poaching, habitat destruction and conflict the main drivers blamed for thinning herds of these gentle creatures.
In Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, reticulated giraffe numbers fell 60 percent in the roughly three decades to 2018, the IUCN says.The Nubian giraffe meanwhile has suffered a tragic decline of 97 percent, pushing this rarer variety toward total extinction.