The regal form of a giraffe striding across the savanna is one of the most iconic sights in Africa. However, we must never take their presence for granted: In what has been coined a ‘silent extinction,’ giraffe populations have plummeted nearly 30% since the 1980s. Several subspecies are classified as threatened to critically endangered, and today, just 117,000 giraffes remain in the wild. Habitat loss is the driving force behind their disappearance, while poaching has emerged as another grave threat.
Working on the frontlines of conservation, we are constantly reminded of the threats facing giraffes. Just two days ago, our teams converged in the Chyulu Hills to save a giraffe who had become caught in a snare.
It all began on the morning of 19th June, when Big Life reported a snared giraffe in the northern sector of Chyulu Hills National Park. A thin wire had become wrapped around his front left leg, severely hindering his mobility. Big Life scouts continued to monitor the giraffe while we mobilised a veterinary operation.
The SWT Caravan flew down to Voi to collect KWS vet Dr Limo and the rest of the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit. Everyone convened at our Kaluku Field Headquarters, where the SWT helicopter was waiting. Given the difficult terrain in this part of the Chyulus — the jagged lava flows covering the hills would make quick work of any vehicle tyres — this would be another aerial veterinary mission.
After they had eyes on the patient, the helicopter landed so Dr Limo could load the dart gun. Then, they were airborne once more. As soon as Dr Limo landed the dart, ground teams converged around the giraffe.
They were met with a grisly sight. The snare had cut so deep into the skin that it was hidden entirely, leaving a chillingly telltale ring around the ankle. Left untended for much longer, it would have severed the giraffe’s limb. Fortunately, the team was able to cut away the wire without incident. They then set about cleaning and treating the wound, before administering long-acting antibiotics to aid healing.
Because of the terrain, helping the giraffe to his feet presented a significant challenge. However, the team got creative and used a rope to give him a leg up. (This was an all-hands-on-deck undertaking, which is why we were not able to photograph it!)
Dr Limo is optimistic that the patient will make a full recovery. As if to confirm his prognosis, the giraffe put weight on his treated leg from the outset, with no signs of discomfort. Given how close he came to losing his leg entirely, everyone present felt a swell of pride and relief to see him standing on all four feet. Finally restored to his regal bearing, this icon of Africa strode off into the Chyulus.