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For the first time in decades, Angolan giraffes now populate a park in Angola

Giraffes wait in a truck before they are unloaded at Iona National Park in Angola.
Casey Crafford
/
Courtesy of African Parks
Giraffes wait in a truck before they are unloaded at Iona National Park in Angola.

Fourteen Angolan giraffes walk into a truck ... and then travel more than 800 miles to their historical homeland, where they had been locally extinct for decades. The migrant giraffes rode unsedated for more than 36 hours this week from Namibia to their new home in Iona National Park, in Angola.

Who are they?

  • These 14 juvenile giraffes come from a private game farm in Namibia. At an estimated 2-3 years old, they stand about 3.5 meters high. (That's roughly 11 1/2 feet tall.)
  • Giraffes' height and plant-based diet means they play an important role in managing ecological balance and pollinating trees and shrubs.
  • Giraffe populations in general have been on a decline due to "habitat loss, poaching, and other human-induced factors" according to African Parks.
  • What's the big deal?

  • It's a logistical feat years in the making to arrange the transfer of animals this large. Once herded, they had to be loaded into a specially designed truck, and then driven very carefully across national borders to their final home – not to mention the politics involved in getting the government support and permits needed for the endeavor.
  • It's a step toward restoring biodiversity at the parks. Thirty years of civil war in the region took its toll, so the return of these giraffes is also symbolic of recovery.
  • The Giraffe Conservation Foundation estimates an Africa-wide population of about 117,000 giraffes. That's one giraffe for every four elephants, for context. With proper protection by the national parks, hopefully that number grows.
  • What are people saying? Stephanie Fennessy, executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, spoke to NPR's Adrian Florido about the initiative.

    On what happened to the giraffes in Angola:

    They used to live in Angola, Namibia, Botswana and parts of Zambia. But during the civil unrest and civil war in Angola, giraffes are really easy animals to poach, and there's a lot of meat on them. So they were really war fodder and went extinct during the civil unrest in the country.

    On the importance of returning these giraffes to their native territory:

    I mean, obviously, any animal is important for biodiversity and for conservation and to have the right mix of animals in the country. So giraffes are landscape shapers, they're pollinators, so they're an important part of the ecosystem. But it's also obviously a prestigious project. I mean, Angola without Angolan giraffes sounds a little bit ridiculous, doesn't it?

    On their release into their new habitat:

    It's always amazing to see giraffes put their first steps into a new environment, where they have been locally extinct for a long time. I mean, it's really emotional. Obviously, the move has been really stressful years in the making. We started with feasibility studies basically two years ago. So when it finally happens, it's just a big relief and you're exhilarated. It's really, really exciting. And yeah, the giraffes are doing well. We tagged most of them with the GPS satellite tracker, so I can sit now here in my office and look where they move and they are just exploring their new habitat and finding their feet.

    So what now?

    Now that Angola is peaceful again, conservationists hope this move is just the beginning of efforts to reintroduce wildlife — here and at other African parks. These 14 giraffes will need to be monitored to ensure they're thriving, but there are ongoing discussions on bringing other animals into the park. "Fourteen is a great start," says Fennessy. "But to really have a feasible, satellite population, it would probably be helpful to bring some more. But let's first see how these ones go and then be taken from there."

    Learn more:

  • Drought is driving elephants closer to people. The consequences can be deadly
  • A historic treaty protecting endangered species turns 50. Is it still an effective tool?
  • When detecting land mines, the nose knows - or, in this case, the trunk
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Megan Lim