The Giraffe: from national symbol to bush meat By LUCAS LIGANGA in Dar es Salaam | Wednesday, April 20   2011 at  17:00

Giraffes in a park. Photo/FILE 

The giraffe, Tanzania's venerated icon and national symbol, has now become an easy target for bush meat poachers. Anti-poachers warn that if the trend is not stopped the long-necked animal will soon be on the brink of extinction.

In Tanzania, Giraffes are exempted from the list of legal hunting game since they are a national symbol and can only be hunted under presidential permit. But of late there has been a growing trend of giraffe poaching, especially in the country’s game controlled areas.

Easy meat

Figures obtained from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (Tawiri) indicate for instance that a census conducted in 2002 in Selous Game Reserve established that there were 6,712 giraffes, but the number decreased drastically and in 2006 another census counted only 3,163 giraffes.

In the Serengeti, the giraffes "are now easy targets for poachers because the animals have a lot of meat on their bones. Meat [from] one giraffe can be equal to meat that one gets from four elands,” said a game warden that preferred to remain anonymous for anti-poaching security reasons.

He was speaking during an interview with The Citizen newspaper at a gala dinner organised by the Wildlife Conservation Foundation of Tanzania (WCFT) in Dar es Salaam over the weekend. The gala was to raise funds for anti-poaching activities in Tanzania.

The game warden added that two giraffes were killed by poachers early this month at the Ruvu Maasai Game Controlled Area in Simanjiro district, Manyara region.

Poachers with military training

“Poachers of giraffes are deadly marksmen and we suspect that some of them have a military training background,” he said.

During this month’s anti-poaching operation in two game controlled areas, game wardens managed to seize giraffe meat, two vehicles and firearms used by the poachers. However, they were unable to arrest the poachers because they “have a very sophisticated network of communications."

When asked for a comment, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, said his ministry was aware of the growing trend in giraffe poaching, adding that relevant measures and investigations are underway.

“We are doing all we can to fight poaching but we have limited staff and resources,” said Mr Maige when reached by phone.

Increasing threat

Even the country's Vice-President, Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal, noted at the WCFT gala that the country’s reservoir of wildlife has been under increasing threat.

“The gravity of criminal acts in our game reserves has increased,” said Dr Bilal. “Should the need be, we are prepared to use all the means at our disposal to conduct special operations to protect our wildlife in designated national parks and game reserves,” he added.

The government is intending to use the latest technology in combating poachers and introducing stiffer laws with higher penalties, including longer prison terms for convicted poachers.