Will my children ever get to see a giraffe? I mull over the question as I feed a gentle giant called Betty at the Giraffe Centre, Nairobi.
Betty’s long, purple tongue reaches out and grabs food from the palm of my hand, slathering my hands with saliva.
“You should kiss it. I hear its saliva has anti-bacterial properties,” says George Wright, a tourist from Chicago, USA.
Betty is one of the nine Rothschild giraffes rescued by the Giraffe Centre.
For Betty and her adopted family of giraffes, life is bliss. They are showered with attention and they are spoilt for choice when it comes to food as thousands of people from around the world flock to the centre to feed and interact with them.
The Giraffe Centre partners with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to give Betty and her family world class care.
But not all giraffes are as lucky as Betty and her family. The giraffe has been cited as Critically Endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Delegates at the convention in Geneva voted overwhelmingly to move the giraffes into the Annex II appendix. The move indicates that the species needs to be tracked and regulated in order to ensure that trade in giraffe is sustainable.
According to the International Union of Conservation of Nature, the giraffe population has fallen drastically by 40 per cent over the past three decades.
Today, there are only 100,000 giraffes across Africa.
Kenya hosts 36 per cent of the giraffe population in Africa but its population in the country has declined by 67 per cent since the 1970s.
Presently, there are nine species of Giraffes across Africa. In Kenya, there are three – Reticulated, Rothschild and the Masai giraffe.
Their endangerment has been attributed to poaching, habitat loss and diseases.
“We have had a lot of problems when it comes to illegal poaching for game meat,” says Ngugi Gecaga, the KWS service spokesperson.
Just two months ago, KWS uncovered 800kg of bush meat that was being illegally traded at the popular Burma Market in Nairobi’s Eastlands.
According to Arthur Muneza, the East African coordinator at the Giraffe Preservation Foundation, Giraffe meat is quite costly.
“In southern Kenya, meat is the common reason they are poached whereby reports from Voi indicate that meat from a single giraffe can fetch a minimum of Sh 100000 ($1,000),” he says.
Besides game meat, giraffes are also being killed and traded internationally for their bones, skins, hooves and horns. Whether the specimens are found legally remains unknown. The country of origin, and sub-species also remains unknown.
The CITES verdict will now mean that legal trade in giraffe parts will officially be globally regulated.
The giraffe vote, 106 in favour and 21 against, was proposed by Chad and strongly supported by Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Nigeria.
However, Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe opposed the proposal claiming that their countries’ giraffe populations were on the contrary well maintained and thriving.
CITES says the population of wild giraffes is actually much smaller than that of wild African elephants.
“We’re talking about a few tens of thousands of giraffes and we’re talking about a few hundreds of thousands of African elephants,” said Tom De Meulenaar, chief of scientific services at CITES.
The announcement comes after a United Nations biodiversity report found that 1 million animals and plant species are threatened and on the brink of extinction.
Though it may seem bleak, stakeholders are optimistic about the giraffe’s finally being recognised as an endangered species.
“I’m really excited about the CITES verdict. It’ll now hopefully shed light on the issue and the international community can hopefully intervene and help us save the animals. Additionally, I hope this will help push for a stricter law when it comes to poaching giraffes,” adds Ngugi Gecaga.
In 2018, Kenya launched a recovery plan for their giraffes. The first ever restoration master plan for 2018 to2022 will seek to boost protection for the iconic mammals; a major source of tourism in the country.
Mr Gecaga hopes that Kenya will do everything it can so that our children don’t end up reading about giraffes in books.
I take final photo of the gentle giants as I leave the centre just in case my children never get to see them.