The giraffe must be one of the unlikeliest animals on the planet. They are frequently cited as evidence that “God” or “nature” has a sense of humor.
They can be over 5 meters tall, weigh nearly two tons, and have a 45cm tongue that allows them to pluck tiny acacia leaves out from a fortress of thorns. They have the largest heart of any land mammal, along with specially valved arteries, providing the strong plumbing system needed to get blood all the way up to their towering heads.
Despite their weirdness, or perhaps because of it, few animals scream “Africa” the way giraffes do. There are nine subspecies of giraffe in Africa, two of which are now listed as endangered by the IUCN. According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, in their press release titled “Rothschild’s giraffe joins list of species threatened by extinction,” the number of Rothschild’s giraffe left in the wild is now under 670.
This means that nearly half of the remaining wild members of this endangered species call Murchison Falls National Park their home.
Endangered Giraffes and Oil
A listing on the IUCN Red List compels governments to try to help keep a species alive. Will this bring a more critical eye to the oil development that is rapidly expanding in some of the best habitat for these animals?
Giraffes are not subtle animals. If they are pushed out of the national parks, it’s not like they can hide out in small forest fragments tucked between villages. Their habitat needs are very specific, which is why their range and distribution are so limited, and why Murchison Falls is the only national park in Uganda where they exist in significant numbers.
The Role of National Parks
One of the main purposes of national parks is to preserve critical habitats for species that can’t survive in a mostly human-altered environment. Once a species becomes listed as endangered, it means that they are already feeling the pinch and that they could very well be heading for extinction if their remaining habitat is not protected.
Nobody knows yet how any of the animals in the parks will respond to increased oil activity. When I was at Murchison Falls two weeks ago, the place was crawling with survey crews driving off-track, cutting new tracks, laying cables across the roads, tying survey tape to trees, and filling up the ferry. There was a sense of bustle that is not consistent with my view of a national park experience, and this is just the survey crews.
Maybe the giraffes will look at the tall, spindly drilling rigs and see a distant cousin. Maybe they will feel more at home than ever. But maybe they will think it is time to move on. I hope not, because they really have nowhere else to go.
Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala