Trouble for the Tall Ones
Giraffe in Tanzania are facing myriad human-caused problems, including illegal poaching, tree-cutting for charcoal, and conversion of savanna habitat to cultivated agriculture. Since the 1940s, human population and agricultural expansion in the Masai Steppe of northern Tanzania have increased fivefold, causing substantial habitat loss and fragmentation. Natural predation by lions and hyenas can also negatively affect giraffe survival, but this problem is exacerbated as wildlife are increasingly harassed out of village lands and squeezed into smaller areas. Most giraffe populations are now largely restricted to lands in and around national parks.
Illegal poaching for bushmeat is a growing threat to the declining giraffe population in Tanzania. Recent research by Dr. Christian Kiffner of the School for Field Studies, based in Karatu, suggests that each year poachers from Kigongoni (the bushmeat hunter stronghold in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem) kill perhaps 90 giraffe in the western part of the ecosystem, which includes Lake Manyara National Park, Mto wa Mbu game controlled area, and Manyara ranch. On average, selling the meat of one giraffe brings around TSH 300,000 of revenue. Giraffe are usually hunted at night, dazzled by spotlights and/or perplexed by loud horns and killed with machetes or spears. Even giraffe within massive protected areas like the Serengeti are not safe. Dr. Megan Strauss of the University of Minnesota, who conducted the demographic study of giraffe in the Serengeti Ecosystem, notes that poachers in the Serengeti target giraffes with wire snares set in the tree canopy. Dr. Strauss believes that poaching has contributed to observed declines in giraffe density in some regions of the Serengeti compared with the 1970s.