BY MARI DE ARMAS
Eyelashes with a wingspan. Feet the size of a dinner plate. An impossibly long neck and a blue tongue to boot. How could you not fall irreversibly in love with this beautiful, albeit odd, animal?
I’ve long been a fan of the giraffe. It was the beloved mascot of my favorite toy store, and now as an adult (that doesn’t want to grow up) I schedule my zoo visits around giraffe feeding times for the chance to get up close and personal with them.
Yet, there is nothing like witnessing these giants suddenly appearing over a canopy, then ambling across the road in front of your safari vehicle in their native Africa.
When you embark on a game drive, you can’t help but anticipate that you’ll see lions and elephants. After all, you’ve come such a long way and it would be rude of them not to casually walk up to your vehicle for a quick hello. Undoubtedly, one of the best places where this experience may very well happen is Kruger National Park (accessible from Cape Town). Home to Africa’s Big Five: the elephant, the lion, the leopard, the cape buffalo and the rhinoceros, this is one of the few reserves that also has vast herds of giraffe. There are only 100,000 giraffes estimated to be living in the savannas of eastern, central and southern Africa, so being able to see them at Kruger is a rare treat.
Word to the wise, as the tallest animal on Earth, you’d think that giraffes would be easy to spot on safari. However, their distinctive brown and white markings serve as exceptionally good camouflage, and it’s not unusual for giraffes to seemingly materialize out of the bush just a few feet away.
Another great place to see giraffes is Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park (accessible from Walvis Bay). The park’s name is ominous for a reason. The terrain consists of windswept sand dunes set against a rough coastline dotted with wrecked ships, making it look like the setting for a post-apocalyptic movie.
Yet, a surprising diversity of creatures including elephant, hyena and, of course, giraffes call this place home. Best of all, the park works in partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to monitor and collect data on the habits and location of these animals, providing invaluable data and findings which, together, can inform and support the conservation and management of giraffes in the wild, as well as in captivity. Dr. Julian Fennessy, founder of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, discovered the shocking statistic that giraffe numbers have declined by 40 percent in the last 15 years. Even more horrifying is the fact that giraffes have become extinct in at least 7 African countries. Their future is uncertain as they face two main threats: encroachment from towns into their habitat and poaching. In particular, many are killed for their tails, which are considered a status symbol in certain cultures. Nonetheless, there appears to be a glimmer of hope for the species — and she resides in upstate New York.
April The Ambassador
Have you met April? She lives at Animal Adventure Park and you can friend and follow this beloved giraffe through her social media pages, her blog and her dedicated live cam. This spring, I was among the more than 300,000 people watching the live stream of April giving birth to an adorable male calf. Weighing 139 pounds with a height of 5 feet and 11 inches, the bouncing baby boy was on its feet and nursing only after an hour of being born. The calf is April’s fifth, and her second since arriving at Animal Adventure Park. Her previous pregnancy, in 2017, sparked worldwide frenzy and shined a spotlight on this adorable giraffe with over a million people watching that live birth.
This type of interest garners an immeasurable amount of education and a deeper appreciation for the species because at any given moment, thousands of people are watching the live cam or discussing giraffes online. Awareness is the first step in conservation. Learn more about giraffes by watching April from your iPad, hand-feeding one at your zoo, or planning your next African safari. These are all ways you can support conservation efforts to help these endangered marvels of the animal kingdom.