Arusha — Wildlife researchers are now embarking on a new five-year Giraffe strategic plan to save mysterious, silent giants from extinction.
Launched on Wednesday, the 2020-2024 strategic plan seeks to replenish the dwindling numbers of the giraffe, which is also one of the country's national symbols.
A research director at the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Dr Julius Keyyu, described the strategic plan as one of its kind that will keep the giraffe population in check.
According to Dr Keyyu, only 29,000 giraffes are currently alive in the country.
"For a long time, now these animals have been hunted for their bone marrows which have been considered to be a cure for some diseases," highlighted the researcher.
Dr Keyyu further pointed out that the declining number of the tall mammals was being exacerbated by two major diseases that he disclosed were fast spreading to other rangelands.
"Giraffe ear and skin diseases are claiming our animals; we hope that the strategic plan will help to save the animals so that tourists come to marvel at the national symbol," he said.
Habitat fragmentation, deforestation and poaching still remained a threat to the survival of the tall mammals, according to the TAWIRI director of research.
Conservationists estimate that some 110,000 giraffes roam throughout Africa, down from a million in the 1700s.
Scientists had long believed that all giraffes belonged to a single species, but new DNA research has identified four distinct species.
Sometimes giraffes are killed only for their tails- status symbols in some cultures.
On his part, Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources Dr Hamisi Kigwangalla, who also launched the five-year strategic plan, challenged the researchers to look for a means to save the giraffes from probable extinction.
According to Dr Kigwangalla, the animals had moved from a 'vulnerable to a risk status', owing to a number of factors, further challenging the researchers to hit the ground running in implementing the muchtouted strategy.
"There's an urgent need of saving our giraffes," emphasised the minister.
He further challenged TAWIRI to focus on resolving human-wildlife conflict which hinders the conservation of animals in the natural habitats and poses the greatest challenges to the persistence and survival of wildlife.
According to conservationists, giraffe poaching was now on the rise after their populations on the continent plummeted by 40 per cent over the last 15 years.
Despite being an African icon and one of the planet's last mega fauna, giraffes have become endangered throughout Africa due to habitat loss for agriculture, deforestation for charcoal, and bush meat poaching.
Their numbers have plummeted to the point where they are now vulnerable to extinction with fewer than 100,000 individuals.
The tall mammals are hunted with motorbikes and machetes and targeted with wire neck snares set in trees. Tanzania, which displays the giraffe as a national symbol, is among the poaching hot spots for the tall mammal.
Ten years ago, herbal medicine practitioners in the country touted giraffe bone marrow and brains as a way to protect people from, or even cure for HIV/ AIDS. Such a practice has also driven up the prices for giraffe meat, making poaching more lucrative.