Who Would Kill a Giraffe?
Several years ago, I arranged for Neil Armstrong and his wife, Carol, to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Zoo. We stopped first to commune with Jana, the newborn giraffe. The zoo showed us a video of her being born. Giraffes give birth standing up, and Jana dropped some six feet to the ground as she slipped from her mother’s womb. The mother licked her calf, and in minutes the newborn got up on wobbly legs. Neil Armstrong was enthralled. You’d think he’d never seen anything interesting before.
Whatever the conservation merits, I’ve always hated to think of any animal confined behind the bars or walls of zoos, the equivalent of jail cells for animals. It seems particularly unfair for the world’s tallest creatures, the gentle vegetarians with flirty lashes and cinnamon spots. I lived in Africa for seven years, and few sights were as magnificent, or calming, as a herd of giraffes loping gracefully across the savannah. Giraffes seem the most harmless of beasts.
But giraffes are increasingly vulnerable in the wild. The world’s giraffe population has plummeted, by more than forty per cent, over the past fifteen years. “It’s a silent extinction,” Julian Fennessy, the executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, told me this week. “Already, giraffes have become extinct in more than seven African countries. Unfortunately, it’s not fully hit the attention of the world, including many governments and major conservation organizations.” Read on ...