Happy New Year from all of us here at Safari West! 2017 has officially begun and with it, the start of another amazing adventure! As we enter the month of January, we’re already looking ahead to what new joys this year will bring.
From out daily safari adventures, to our holiday events, 2017 is already shaping up to be phenomenal. In just over a month’s time, we’ll be hosting our first holiday event of the New Year, the annual Valentine’s Day Wild Jungle Love Excursion. This once a year experience is a rare opportunity for our adult guests to enjoy a sensuous Valentine’s Day lunch followed by a very special safari adventure focused on animal courtship, mating, and all the wild stuff that goes into the making of animal babies. Not long after that, we’ve got Earth Day, school fieldtrip season, Mother’s and Father’s Day events, and the coming of spring! And that’s just what’s in store for the next few months!
We want to thank all of you for making 2016 the amazing year that it was, and we invite each and every one of you to come be a part of Safari West in the New Year. Thanks for all that you do and once again:
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
Peter & Nancy Lang
Founders, Safari West
Conservation Corner: Vulnerable! The New World of the Gentle Giraffe
By: Jared Paddock
Have you been following the news lately? If so, you may have heard that giraffe were recently declared “vulnerable”. This unwelcome news is shocking to many. It may also be a little confusing. What is “vulnerable” exactly? Is it the same as endangered? And perhaps most important of all, what happened to bring us to this point?
The answers to these questions are both complex and surprisingly simple. To be vulnerable is to be endangered, or at the least, to be in the early stages of endangerment. As to how it happened? It happened the same way it always happens; a combination of factors mostly having to do with conflict with human populations and our widespread impacts.
First off, it’s important to understand that when it comes to discussions of endangered species, there are many bureaucracies and agencies in play, ranging from non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to national institutions like the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife. Each of these entities has their own specific designations and processes used to assess when a given species is in danger of extinction. Among these varied organizations, there’s one agency in particular that has become the primary arbiter of assessing species sustainability: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The IUCN maintains a database of plant and animal species. Within this database, they utilize carefully researched and tabulated data to determine the overall vitality of individual species. Once the IUCN has assessed a species, they assign it a classification. Species in no real danger of extinction are declared to be species of “least concern” (think human beings, raccoons, and rats). From there the ranking descends through the categories of near threatened (American bison), vulnerable (giraffe and elephant), endangered (ring-tailed lemur), critically endangered (black rhinoceros), extinct in the wild (scimitar horned oryx), and finally, extinct (dodo birds).
The recent development in the world of giraffe was a downgrading from “least concern” to “vulnerable.” It is terrible to learn that giraffe are doing so poorly in the world, but this is actually good news for the species for the simple reason that with a change in conservation status comes the possibility of beneficial regulation and legislation.
Prior to this momentous down-listing from “least concern” straight through “near threatened” to “vulnerable,” the giraffe was a species largely ignored by the conservation community. As big, fairly visible animals, they are easier to find on safaris and game drives than the elusive and rare predators like lions and leopards. They are seldom targeted by poachers like elephants and rhinos. They’ve been common spectacles on African game drives for a long time and for these reasons and more, we’ve been largely blind to their nearly universal decline.
But decline they have. As of 1985, the total giraffe population was estimated at somewhere between 151,000 and 163,000 animals. Today the number is closer to 97,000. That’s a nearly 40% decline in three decades! To provide some context to these numbers, let’s compare to another megafauna species; the heavily poached African elephant. African elephants face tremendous persecution across their range and are also classified as “vulnerable” and yet as of mid-2016, they number roughly 352,000. That’s nearly four wild elephants for every wild giraffe left in existence. This leaves us with two questions: what has been happening, and why didn’t we know it was happening earlier?
The second question is the easier to answer. We did know earlier. While much of the world has been blind to the decline of the giraffe, there have been canaries in the coal mine. One of the most strident voices in trying to wake the world up to the decline of the giraffe has been that of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and its founders Dr. Julian and Stephanie Fenessey. The GCF has been working on giraffe conservation for years and has been sounding the alarm for the majority of that time. They’ve done amazing work but as with any large scale issue—from cigarettes to climate change—the world has been slow to respond.
In order for an organization like the IUCN to reclassify a species, there must be a reservoir of empirical data driving the change. This means that scientists must first be interested in the species in question and capable of gaining funding for research. Data must be collected, analyzed, and published; a process that can take years or decades. Only once a suitable amount of data has been compiled can the IUCN begin reassessment. The recent down-listing of the giraffe marks the first reassessment by the IUCN of this species since 2010 and the first change in conservation status since 1996.
The complexities of trying to count animals and determine the challenges affecting their survival across a continent and national borders can be extreme. Inference and approximation come into play and this effects the IUCN assessment as well. While the down-listing of the giraffe may be long overdue, it’s not something that could have been rushed without sacrificing scientific integrity. This fact more than any other illustrates why it is important for policy makers and concerned citizens to pay attention to current events in concert with organizations like the IUCN when it comes to conservation practices. The “endangered” appellation is a bit like declaring a disaster after the fire or earthquake has struck. It’s reactionary rather than proactive.
The reasons why giraffes have declined so dramatically is another complex, yet fairly straightforward story. There are four primary factors limiting the survivability of the species. The first is habitat loss. Deforestation and land conversion for agriculture and mining are occurring across the range of the giraffe. As forests disappear, so too do the giraffe. As large animals, they are disproportionately affected by this habitat loss. They are specialized creatures that rely heavily on acacia trees for their food. While they eat over 100 species of plant, acacia makes up the majority of giraffe diet and when these trees go, the animals do too.
A second factor affecting the giraffe is overall climate change. Many parts of Africa are growing drier which leads to a higher incidence of brush and forest fires. This leads to increased habitat loss on top of the acreage lost to human development. Likewise, as drought causes human dislocation, populations on the move frequently relocate to protected areas or regions where giraffe are already living. When there’s conflict or competition for resources between human beings and giraffe, the humans inevitably come out on top.
The third factor relates to widespread civil unrest and war taking place across much of Africa. In regions with roving militias or refugees on the move, a large, generally slow moving giraffe makes for an excellent source of needed calories.
The closely related fourth factor is poaching. An increasing number of giraffe are shot illegally, their bodies left largely intact but for their tails. The tails are removed and sold either as good luck charms or status symbols, much like the lucky rabbit’s feet of western tradition, except that unlike rabbits, giraffe take four to five years to reach sexual maturity and produce at most one new giraffe every two to two-and-a-half years. Long-lived, slow breeding animals like giraffe simply cannot sustain losses on this scale for long.
On the whole, these factors add up to one overarching problem; conflict with humans. As our population increases across the globe, the populations of our wild neighbors necessarily decreases. But the issues coming to light with giraffe can be instructive and ultimately, hopeful. While we lament their decline, they’re not gone yet. We still have time to act, to provide policies to protect the species and establish places for them to thrive. As ecotourism continues to grow and develop throughout Africa, it becomes more and more compelling to establish reserves in which many species can live and reproduce largely free of human interference. Likewise, developments in agriculture and land use are helping to mitigate conflicts between farmers, ranchers, and miners, and their long-necked neighbors.
The news about the reassessment of giraffes also gives us cause to hope because it is being framed, not only as a tragic example of yet another animal that’s in danger of extinction, but as a discussion about the process of classification and meaning of the word “endangered.” As a population, we appear to be growing more sophisticated and nuanced in our understanding of the natural world and its patterns. With focus and determination, we will continue to improve our ability to recognize population declines and preemptively act to conserve species before they experience thirty or forty percent losses.
The bad news for giraffe are that they’re now classified as vulnerable, but the good news is that with that classification comes increased attention and conservation action. The even better news is that giraffe are already universally recognized and popular, meaning that widespread support and efforts toward their conservation shouldn’t be as difficult to motivate as it is with more obscure species.
To show your support for these beautiful and graceful creatures, consider making a donation to hard-working organizations like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The best hope for giraffe lies in our communal concern and interest in their well-being. Please join us in working to conserve this unique and irreplaceable species.
Safari Spotlight: Bongo
Perhaps the most striking and unusual of the many antelope species on display at Safari West is the Bongo. These creatures are surprising in many ways, not the least of which are their startling coloration and striping. Bongos are large, heavy bodied creatures with vibrant, chestnut-colored coats. While the females tend to remain reddish-brown throughout their lives, the males gradually darken, becoming nearly black in some cases. The rich coloration of their coat is offset by bright and clearly defined vertical stripes—usually twelve to fourteen in number—that run along their chests and flanks.
Within this species, both males and females sport large spiral horns. In both sexes the horns are angled backwards and can be held close against the shoulders when the animal is on the run. This is an important characteristic as the bongo is an inhabitant of deep, dense tropical forests and a laid back horn is less likely to snag on a branch or vine. It may be surprising to many to learn that such a large, round-bodied animal makes its home in dense vegetation but these surprisingly nimble creatures thrive in the tropical rainforests of equatorial Africa.
Within their natural habitat, bongos are known to be most active at night and in the twilight hours. During the day they frequently retreat into deep cover, only emerging along the forest edges or in clearings under cover of darkness. Bongos are known to prefer new growth vegetation that colonizes areas of disturbance. It’s most common to see bongos in the cleared areas that result from logging, elephant disturbance, rock slides, or the burning of fields. Like the forest elephants that create many of these clearings, bongos are also known to make use of naturally occurring mineral salt licks to supply needed trace minerals.
In the modern era, bongo numbers appear to be diminishing, however the extent of their decline remains a bit of a mystery. These creatures exemplify some of the difficulties of contemporary conservation as their shy nature, vast distribution, dense natural habitat, and wide-ranging habits make it all but impossible to conduct an efficient census of the population. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) there are between 15,000 and 25,000 bongos left in the forests of equatorial Africa. The large margin of error in that estimate is a further indicator of how little is known about wild bongos.
Beyond their surprising size, these animals are also unusual in that they form herds; a rare trait among forest dwelling antelope. While these congregations of bongo are usually limited to five to ten individuals, they have been seen gathering in groups of up to fifty. As yet, this behavior remains poorly understood as bongos seem not to be territorial nor heavily hunted by local predators, two factors thought to be related to herding behavior.
While bongos do suffer a great deal of persecution by humans, most of this is unintentional. Among many local people, there are taboos against the consumption of bongo meat and so targeted hunting of the animals has been rare. Unfortunately, snaring is an increasingly common practice in the countries that constitute the bongos range and snares are indiscriminate killers.
A further complication is the bongos’ popularity among trophy hunters. The economic driver of trophy-hunting tourism coupled with lax or nonexistent regulation in many regions has led to population declines of some significance. On the other hand, hunting has created an economic incentive to ensure that bongos survive in sustainable numbers. This factor is driving some regions to protect bongo habitat and craft regulations that may actually help conserve the species in the long term.
Currently there are two types of bongo recognized and while they aren’t separate species, they do form two distinct and isolated populations. The more common subspecies, the lowland bongo, resides in the tropical belt stretching from Sierra Leone to Togo and Benin. There’s a gap in their range in Nigeria, but then it picks up again and runs through the tropical forests of Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and part of South Sudan. The other subspecies, the mountain bongo, can be found only in four fragmented and isolated populations on a few mountains in Kenya. Were the mountain bongo considered a separate species from its lowland brethren, it would be classified as critically endangered.
As it stands, the bongo is currently assessed as near threatened. Their numbers are decreasing as a result of indiscriminate trapping, trophy hunting, and increasing habitat loss and fragmentation. Current estimates are that the total population has declined by 20% in that last twenty-four years. That said, they remain firmly entrenched in a largely impenetrable habitat and seem to do quite well when left to their own devices.
To this day, the bongo remains one of the most mysterious and least understood of the African antelope. They are rare in the wild and uncommon in captivity. Safari West prides itself on our small but growing family of bongos. Come to Safari West and treat yourself to the rare sight of this amazing and unusual species.
Safari West Wildlife Foundation Presents: Bless the Beasts and Children Annual Fundraiser
Bless the Beasts and Children Foundation Fundraiser:
Please be our Guest and become a voice for the voiceless.
The Carpenters’ Academy, Award 1971 Single
Friday, May 19th, 2017 • 5:00 P.M. — 10:00 P.M.
$125 per person
$500 for Two People Overnight Stay in a Luxury Safari Tent.
Featuring African-inspired small bites, select local wines, brews, and a cast of wild animal encounters throughout the evening.
Kindly RSVP to Corrine Bishop at 707-566-3613 or email@example.com to reserve this wonderful evening!
The Foundation strives to make it possible for over 30,000 underserved children to experience the adventure or Safari West. With your support, we can continue to connect all children to the enchanting world of nature and wildlife. If you are unable to attend, but would like to provide support in other ways, please consider becoming an event sponsor or donating in honor of the event.
Remember, it’s for the children!
Evening Benefits our Safari West Wildlife Foundation