The second-oldest national park in Africa, Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo used to be teeming with wildlife. It was once home to 500 northern white rhinos, over 20,000 elephants, and 350 Kordofan giraffes. But 40 years later, the park is in a different state. Wracked by chronic insecurity, armed conflict and the eternal threat of poachers, the wildlife is paying the price.
“This is one of the most trouble-ridden parts of Africa,” Chris Thouless, who works for Save the Elephants, a conservation organization that aims to protect the animals, told AFP. “Simply, Garamba's survival is an absolute miracle.” Today, there are no northern white rhinos left in the park (with the only three surviving northern white rhinos living in Kenya), the elephant population has been decimated to 1,500 individuals, and the Kordofan giraffes are on the brink with just 38 individuals, according to a new census.
Garamba National Park (pictured) is the second-oldest national park in Africa, and the last remaining home for giraffes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nuria Ortega/Wikimedia
The Kordofan giraffe is one of nine subspecies of the long-necked animals to live on the African continent. While most other subspecies are found in the south and east of the continent, the Kordofan is the only one to persist in Central Africa. It once ranged across large tracts of grassland, from Chad and Cameroon in the west to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the east. While it is thought that around 3,000 of the animals still live in scattered populations across its range, the few remaining ones in Garamba are thought to be the last of the subspecies living in the entire DRC.
The giraffes are split into two populations within the reserve, and those who work in Garamba, which is run by the non-profit organization African Parks, worry that if any more are killed, the population will no longer be sustainable and will slowly die out. In a bid to protect them, researchers have now attached radio collars to a number of the giraffes. It is hoped this will allow conservationists to “monitor their every movement, and park rangers to track their whereabouts,” writes AFP. Not only that, but it should also help the special units assigned to protect the animals against poachers, who kill the animals for their meat and pelt.
Protecting the giraffes in Garamba is particularly a challenge. At around 12,400 square kilometers (4,800 square miles), defending the mosaic of rainforest and grassland that makes up the park is a thankless task, but one that the rangers are getting better at. The proportion of the park now under control and patrolled by rangers has increased from 30 percent to almost 100 percent today. But it has come at a cost, as rangers have been killed in action trying to protect the remaining wildlife.