Posted Wednesday evening, July 5, 2017.
“An orphan giraffe is being fed by his Samburu keeper at the Namunyak wildlife Consevancy in Kenya. The Samburu are traditionally nomadic pastoralists. The community here has been deeply involved in creating and managing the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy.” Photo by Ami Vitale, National Geographic.
I swear that once upon a time I must have known what “reticulated” means. You're dealing with someone who used to read dictionaries for fun. In sixth grade I won a classroom contest for coming up with the most synonyms for "defeated" --- as in the Packers defeated the Cowboys. I think I came up with 112. But don't hold me to that. I was good with words. Numbers, not so much. My prize was a pocket thesurus that I still own and cherish. But when I came across the word in this article from National Geographic this morning, I blanked and had to look it up. Reticulated:
Constructed, arranged, or marked like a net or network.
‘a pinafore of a finely reticulated pattern
Pretty good description of the patterned hide of a giraffe. Which is why, as I just learned, giraffes---or the animals most of us Americans know as giraffes as if they're the only kind of giraffe.---are formally known as reticulated giraffes. This distinguishes them from Rothschild's giraffes, Nubian giraffes, Masai giraffes, Kordofan giraffes, Rhodesian giraffes, South African giraffes, and Angolan giraffes. Nine subspecies of giraffa camelopardis, in all. Reticulated giraffes, g.c. Reticula, less commonly known as Somali giraffes. are the ones who show up most often in zoos---although not the Bronx Zoo or the San Diego Zoo. Their herds are all Rothschild's giraffes. The colors of Rothschild's giraffes reticulated coats---see what I did there?---aren't as vivid and they have five ossicones to other giraffes two. Ossicone is another word I had to look up. The little horn-like protuberances on top of giraffes' heads, those are ossicones. Rothschild's giraffes are endangered. There are fewer than 2,000 of them left in the wild. All giraffes, though, are listed as vulnerable. There are only around 97,000 and that's down from the 155,000 there were fifteen years ago.
That’s what it says in one of the articles I read this morning at National Geographic, "How to Save the World's Tallest Animal." (June 21, 2017.) Another, from 2015, has the giraffe population at 80,000, down from 140,000. Not sure why the difference, but it’s probably due to its not being easy to count giraffes or any animal in the wild and giraffes not getting the attention from ecologists other vulnerable African animals like elephants and rhinos have been getting.
Point is, Giraffes are facing a steady "silent extinction" and conservationists, National Geographic reports, aren't sure what to do to stop it or even why it’s happening:
Habitat loss and fragmentation, coupled with poaching, have mostly driven the decline, but because there have been no long-term conservation efforts, it’s hard to know what’s really happening.
Making matters worse, scientists know very little about giraffe behavior: how they live, the space they need to survive, where they move, and even why their necks are so long.
There’s an effort underway to figure it all out, and it’s starting with a program to track as many giraffes as can be collared and fitted with solar-powered GPS devices. Collaring giraffes is a tricky business:
The process isn’t easy. During the recent fieldwork, Kenyan Wildlife Service veterinarian Mathew Mutinda darted the shoulder or hindquarters of a reticulated giraffe from both a car and a helicopter. As the drug took effect, the giraffe would start “high-stepping”—resembling the movements of a Lipizzaner stallion. Four men would then quickly and quietly run a rope around the giraffe’s legs to bring it down safely. After about 10 minutes, the experts would attach the trackers and release the animal.
A giraffe is released after attaching a tiny GPS tracker at Loisaba Wildlife Conservancy. An ambitious initiative has begun that will give critical insight into the dynamics of these charismatic creatures. Photo by Ami Vitale, National Geographic.
The story at National Geographic is by photographer Ami Vitale and as a with all National Geographic articles the photographs are beautiful. To read the story and view Vitale’s slide show, follow the link to How to Save the Tallest Animal.
You should also read Virginia Morrell’s Inside the Fight to Stop Giraffes’ ‘Silent Extinction’, also at National Geographic. Studying giraffes isn’t just a tricky business, it can also be a dangerous one:
Giraffe researcher Julian Fennessy recently boarded a helicopter in Ethiopia's Gambella National Park, which borders the turbulent new nation of South Sudan.
His mission: To collar giraffes and collect tissue samples from the animals, which have been rapidly disappearing from Africa in what Fennessy calls a "silent extinction." (Related: "Giraffes, Zebras Face Surprising Top Threat: Hunting.")
After successfully handling one of the Gambella giraffes, Fennessy and his team headed out again in search of another. But as they flew over the park, they spotted cattle—and herders armed with AK-47s.
"They aimed their weapons at us," Fennessy recalls, "and started firing. And they hit us." The pilot swooped away, evading most of the bullets, and landed to inspect the damage.
"It was minimal, so we continued on and checked on the giraffe we'd collared the day before. He was only two kilometers [1.2 miles] away from the people"—and their guns.