On World Giraffe Day, June 21, Como Zoo takes a stand with international conservation groups calling attention to growing threats to giraffes
Towering over other animals at heights of up to 20 feet, giraffes like Skeeter, Clover and Daisy have been an iconic and near-constant presence at Como Zoo for generations.
But in the wild, giraffes have been declining at such a precipitous rate that conservation experts are concerned they could disappear in the coming decades. In the past 30 years, in fact, drought, disease, habitat loss, legal hunting and illegal poaching have all contributed to reducing giraffe populations by more than 40 percent. Just this spring, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would conduct a review to decide whether to add giraffes to the list of endangered and threatened wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, a move that could help cut off the market demand for giraffe trophies and other items made from giraffe hides, bones, and other parts. There are now thought to be fewer than 98,000 healthy giraffes left in the wild.
Calling attention to what’s being called a “silent extinction” of all nine subspecies of the world’s giraffes is now one of the goals behind World Giraffe Day on June 21, a global conservation event that began in 2014. On the longest day of the year, the longest-necked animal on the planet is the focus for this international effort aimed at calling attention to both the environmental threats to wild giraffes, and the possible solutions for saving them.
“Everyone knows that giraffes are tall and beautiful, but there’s so much more to them,” says Como Zoo Keeper Jill Erzar. Several years ago, for instance, scientists learned that giraffes have social hierarchies just as complex as elephants. Females like Como Zoo’s own Clover and Daisy have been found to forge close friendship bonds that can last for years, while males like Skeeter have been found to have complicated mating strategies that depend on which of the nearby bulls is the biggest.
Erzar has had the chance to see many of these discoveries and behaviors first hand as part of Conservation Champions, the Como Friends program that allows Como’s professional staff to take part in conservation partnerships around the world. The program made it possible for Como Zoo Keeper Adam Nigon to assist researchers collecting giraffe herd survey data in Namibia, while Erzar has made two trips to South Africa and Tanzania, to see how local conservation groups are trying to promote the environmental value of giraffes while protecting them from poachers.
“These trips have helped me to tell the story of giraffes so much better, because I can say, for instance, the behavior visitors are seeing here at Como Zoo is the same behavior I’ve witnessed in the wild,” she says. “To see them moving in a herd or a family structure is really amazing, and it’s only increased my love for the animals I get to work with at Como.”
During World Giraffe Day, animals all around Como Zoo will enjoy giraffe-themed enrichment, while Erzar and Nigon will be on hand for keeper talks about giraffes–and may even be found wearing special “ossicone” headbands in honor of the animals they care for. While she’s worried about the threats giraffes face in the wild, Erzar is happy that these gentle giants are finally capturing the attention they deserve from the public and from the world’s conservation researchers.
“Giraffes have been underappreciated for a long time, but that’s really starting to change,” she says. “If you give them an opportunity, giraffes can teach us a lot.”
CONSERVATION CHAMPIONS: From following the footprints of snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan, to taking care of orphaned seal pups in California, several members of Como’s talented team of keepers and horticulturists have been on the go this year sharing their expertise with partner conservation groups and bringing home new insights as “Conservation Champions,” a new initiative created by Como Friends. This popular new program empowers Como professionals to become active partners in conservation efforts across the U.S. and around the globe.