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Niger scrub becomes last sanctuary for giraffe herds

by Staff Writers
Koure, Niger (AFP) Dec 30, 2007
The last West African giraffes have found a refuge in the acacia scrub just one hour's drive outside Niger's capital Niamey.

Far from poachers and other predators, babies in tow, they extend their long necks to grab a mouthful of thorny acacia bush.

Since hunting was banned ten years ago, these giraffes have found a haven of peace in the tiger bush scrub here.

At the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, when the Sahara was still green, giraffes could be found all the way across North and West Africa, from Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal, down to Cameroon.

Just a century ago they still could be found in Senegal, Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria but their numbers have diminished dramatically since then. Now, apart from a few animals in Mali, the only viable herds of Giraffa camelopardalis peralta are here in Niger.

Their record of coexistence with the local population has had its ups and downs.

In 1996, after a decade of intensive poaching and the severe drought of 1984, their numbers had fallen to just 50 animals. Now there are around 170 of them, according to a recent census by the Association to Safeguard Giraffes in Niger (ASGN).

"If we lose these ones that means the end of the peralta sub-species," warned Jean Patrick Suraud, ASGN's scientific coordinator.

"We don't kill giraffes any more. We look after them like we look after our children," said Amadou Yacouba, the chief of Kannare village in the heart of the giraffe zone.

The giraffes are not afraid of humans and so they come right up to the huts in the village.

"We see them crossing the school yard like top models," a village teacher said.

The giraffes are gaining notoriety in other ways. For the past few years guides and researchers have been baptising the offspring. Armed with patience and a bit of good luck, the ever more-numerous tourists who come here can meet "Patricia" or "Siddo" in the middle of the bush.

In 2003 local peasants went as far as wearing mourning dress for two giraffe calves offered by Niger's president to one of his African counterparts and who perished on their way.

But cohabiting with the giraffes is not always easy.

"Sometimes the farmers get mad because the giraffes are eating their bean harvests," explained Kimba Ide, a tour guide.

"To put things into perspective we explain to them that hippopotami are protected and yet they are more dangerous than giraffes and do more damage," Ousmane Zodi, another ASGN worker explained.

To encourage local people to protect giraffes ASGN and its partners, including Doue la Fontaine zoo in France, have provided bore holes, cereal banks, grain mills, seeds and fertiliser.

The women get interest-free loans to help them set up small shops.

But despite the new giraffe-friendly mood in Koure, the peralta giraffes still face challenges: deforestation is destroying their habitat, while one or two have perished in road accidents.

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Evolutionary Study Shows Beetles Are Life's 6-Legged Survivors
London, UK (SPX) Dec 21, 2007
Most modern-day groups of beetles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs and have been diversifying ever since, says new research out in Science. There are approximately 350,000 species of beetles on Earth, and probably millions more yet to be discovered, accounting for about 25% of all known life forms on the planet. The reason for this large number of beetle species has been debated by scientists for many years, but never resolved.

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