By Tim Tetzlaff, Director of Conservation
I wanted to share some thoughts on giraffe as World Giraffe Day is coming up (June 21). Giraffes are already top of mind for me as we’re currently creating a new elevated giraffe viewing area here at the zoo. It got me reflecting on these giants and for some reason firsts stick in my mind and so I’m sharing the photos that go with them. Oddly enough, my first giraffe memories are life-size fiberglass giraffes in the Cedar Point theme park where my parents (Jungle Larry and Safari Jane) had their animals – something about looking up so far struck me.
Then there was the giraffe on the cover of my dad’s safari itinerary and the images he brought back including a giraffe in front of Mount Kilimanjaro when I was just 4.
It would be many years before I got to see my first wild giraffes – a herd in Namibia.
And getting up close to our giant giraffes here still makes me wonder how I got so blessed to have the life I do. I know many of you bring children/grandchildren and friends here to feed the giraffe. Me, too. I have a friend I’ve known since before I looked up at those fiberglass giraffe. It was such a joy to bring him here to feed the giraffe last year. Giraffe have given much to me, which is one of the reasons I am committed to giving back to them. When Julian and Steph Fennessy from Giraffe Conservation Foundation were here last year and we sat down to talk, I asked my typical question: Where’s the pain? What’s important that you can’t get funding for? That conversation ended up putting me on a plane to Uganda.
My dad had been to Uganda, specifically Murchison Falls National Park. The abundant giraffe from the films of my youth are now getting caught in wire snares set by poachers from Uganda and nearby D.R. Congo. The wounds are devastating and some lose part of their leg. I had seen images before. It was awful, but what could be done? “Sara” was now the answer. Dr. Sara Ferguson is an extraordinary individual and I’ll be glad to sit down and sing her praises anytime. She’s the kid with a dream of Africa who managed to get herself there about every year by hook or by crook since 9th grade. She became a wildlife veterinarian in the US, got additional focused training in Zimbabwe graduating top of her class there, and secured a National Geographic grant to go to Murchison to remove those painful snares. But that grant was running out. Julian and Steph were committed to keep her doing this work but hadn’t secured funding for it. After some work that required doubling our commitment, Naples Zoo fixed that pain. We started funding her annual salary and seven months ago I saw firsthand how needed and effective the work is. In a relatively short amount of time, working with the rangers, she was able to rescue most giraffe before the wounds became permanent and catastrophic. She is making a difference. (See pics of de-snaring, the giraffe running away well, and the awfulness of a snare – FYI, I didn’t share the graphic pics.)
But Murchison is close to the proverbial eggs in one basket. Only 3,000 critically endangered Nubian giraffe exist – over half are in that park. So GCF has been successfully moving these rare giraffe to safer locations. It’s extraordinary work and has been documented in a PBS special.
Last year, right after I left, they moved fifteen giraffe to a protected reserve as they have with other groups to different locations. Giraffe had been locally extinct there for about 25 years. The people celebrated all day when giraffe returned. This year, World Giraffe Day’s fundraising efforts will be used to reinforce this population. So Sara will be once again taking a big part in these moves. I share this for two reasons. One – conservation works. Smart, long-term efforts can make a difference. Two – I’m hoping you’ll consider being among those who help conservation work. Share this success story. People need good news. And this is GOOD NEWS. And by donating, and visiting the zoo, and eating at South Street in Naples this coming week, you can play a part. See Sara’s video as she explains all this and then see how you can be a part from just enjoying a good meal (dine in or pick up) and see a variety of rewards we’re offering starting at just a $5 donation that you can enjoy --or you can gift to a friend or grandchild. Please share with your friends. Conservation funding is being hit hard. We’re maintaining our commitment at the zoo, but many are not able to and that ripples to these precious creatures. Sara chose to stay in Uganda during the pandemic to continue this work. Please join with us in helping her in saving the giraffes.