Niger to move protected giraffes as habitat shrinks

Part of a group of a rare giraffes that has become a Niger tourist attraction is to be moved to a reserve 600km away owing to encroaching desert, farmland and increasing instances of them being struck by vehicles, officials said on Wednesday.

"It's to give the species better protection," Environment Minister Almoustapha Garba told a media conference.

He explained that initially seven females and three males would be taken from a herd living in the southwest Koure region south of the capital Niamey and relocated in the Gadabedji Reserve in the centre of Niger, on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

The animals, known by the classification Giraffa camelopardalis peralta or more commonly the West African giraffe or Niger giraffe, has light-coloured spots and the herd in Niger is the last self-producing tower left in the world.

Under the supervision of animal protection associations, the number of West African giraffes in Koure grew from 50 in 1996 to an estimated 612 in 2017, according to environment ministry figures.

The animals are regularly seen crossing roads in the Koure region, to the delight of tourists but at a cost of some becoming roadkill when struck by trucks or buses.

Their shrinking habitat has forced them to venture hundreds of kilometres (miles) to forage, Omer Dovi of the Niger Giraffes Rescue Association. "Some giraffes have gone as far as the border with Mali where they have been killed by poachers," he said.

The relocation programme is to be carried out jointly by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the Sahara Conservation Fund and the UN Development Programme. The cost of the operation was not given.

Experts were to monitor how the first 10 West African giraffes adapt to their new surroundings before deciding whether to transfer the rest of the group. The pilot herd were to be fitted with microchips to help geolocate them.

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