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DRC’s Garamba National Park: The last giraffes of the Congo

first_imgToday there are only 46 giraffes left in Garamba National Park, in Northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo in a nearly 2,000 square-mile area.Garamba is situated in a dangerous part of Africa crawling with heavily armed poachers and various guerilla groups.Garamba is one of 10 national parks and protected areas in 7 countries managed by African Parks, a non-profit conservation organization. GARAMBA NATIONAL PARK, Democratic Republic of Congo – Scientist Mathias D’haen said he couldn’t believe his eyes. We had been walking in the bush for a couple of days in a fruitless search for giraffes when all of a sudden one of the park rangers spotted some of the graceful ruminants.“You’re incredibly lucky,” he said. “I never thought we would see giraffes here.”The animals, which can weigh between 1,600 to 3,000 pounds, were a couple hundred feet away from us, well-camouflaged amidst the trees. It seemed to take at least 20 seconds to make out their shapes. It didn’t matter whether there were two or 10 of them: we had seen giraffes from the ground, which rarely happens.Most of the time, when in the bush, D’haen, a PhD student who studies giraffes in Garamba National Park, in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has to make do with collecting droppings and taking habitat pictures. Not surprising, as there are only 46 giraffes left in Garamba. The park covers a nearly 2,000 square-mile area. The giraffes here are needles in a haystack, basically. The only guaranteed way to see them is to locate the one equipped with a GPS collar, and fly over it with a small aircraft.The logistics are complicated, but the challenge and possible reward is thrilling. The Kordofan giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum) in Garamba are a rare sub-species of giraffe, and they’re the last remaining giraffes in DRC. The tallest land mammal in the world, the giraffe is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN.Scientist Mathias D’haen (l) rides through Garamba National Park with a ranger. Photo by Thomas Nicolon for Mongabay.D’haen studies the population dynamics of Garamba’s Kordofan giraffes. He describes it as “a difficult task,” considering the vastness of the park, the poor density of animals and the lack of roads. D’haen, whose interest in giraffes was sparked by his mentor Julian Fennessy, co-founder of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and the conservation organization’s first executive director, quickly grew fond of them.“It’s a strangely put together animal,” he said. “But they function very well.”Now he hopes to answer the following questions: why is the giraffe population so low in Garamba, and why isn’t it recovering as hoped? Even at their documented peak, they numbered only 300 back in 1976.One factor, D’haen says, is that Garamba’s habitat isn’t typical for giraffes. For starters, there’s a low density of acacia, which is an important part of their diet. But that’s not all. In Garamba giraffes can be found in densely wooded areas despite standing up to as high as 20 feet above the ground.last_img

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