New Year’s marked birth of first baby giraffe for KZN conservancy

New Year’s babies are celebrated around the world, and a birth at Ukuwela Conservancy brought special joy. The conservancy, run in northern KwaZulu-Natal by Wild Tomorrow Fund, welcomed its first giraffe birth.

Giraffe are listed as a vulnerable mammal on the continent.

While the baby has not yet been named, the mother giraffe, Ndzilo, was sponsored by Rikus Lombard and his wife Jessica Masters, who are expecting their first child in June.

The couple, who live in New York, in the US, were delighted by the news of the new baby in Zululand.

Rikus, a former field guide in South Africa, said Ukuwela, established in June 2017, had been successful in its goal of habitat protection and wildlife conservation.

“As soon as our baby can travel, we plan to spend part of our maternity/paternity in South Africa. Ukuwela is a good place to introduce our youngster to conservation,” he said.

“What this giraffe birth means to me is basically the same thing, a metaphor for our own lives.

“When you take care of your partnership and your own life, it enables you to have a good ecosystem to have your own little ones.

“Caring for the land - making it a healthy ecosystem and then introducing native species - helps these species to flourish.”

The baby giraffe’s father is one of two males, named JJ and Burly, which were sponsored by Wild Tomorrow Fund board member Carol Ciszek.

Co-founder and chief operating officer for Wild Tomorrow Fund, Wendy Hapgood, said JJ and Burly were named after Ciszek’s dogs in New York City, where they are qualified therapy dogs which visit sick children in hospital.

Speaking about the baby giraffe, Hapgood said: “It’s such a beautiful little thing and truly is testament to the power of saving land and restoring ecosystems, nature does return in force, rebirth.”

She said four zebra and six blue wildebeest had also been born this year and that sponsorship of the re- introduction of an animal into the conservancy was “a very powerful connection to a conservation cause many thousands of miles away.

“It’s such a positive and hopeful action which our donors love when we are surrounded by such terrible news for our planet and nature.”

The first giraffes were released in Ukuwela in November 2017, a 500 hectare property where the habitat is being actively restored, alien species removed and wildlife being reintroduced.

The birth of the baby giraffe brings the conservancy’s population to 14 and will also serve to strengthen the species in Southern Africa, with declining numbers across Africa being called the “silent extinction”.

The biggest issue faced by giraffes is habitat loss, with their grazing areas across Africa being fragmented by fences, roads, deforestation, mining and oil drilling.

In October 2016, giraffes joined the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and categorised as “vulnerable”, with the update stating there had been “a devastating decline for giraffes driven by habitat lost, civil unrest and illegal hunting”.

There are an estimated 37000 South African giraffes remaining in the wild and are the most abundant sub-species, with numbers dropping in East, Central and West Africa.

Dr Julian Fennessy, from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said while numbers had gone up in the country, there had been an overall decline across the continent.

“In general, population decline across the continent has gone from 155000 individuals to estimated 111000 individuals today.

“We are increasing efforts across the continent, working with governments, NGOs and academic institutions to increase surveys, conservation translocations, GPS satellite tagging, de-snaring, anti-poaching and more.”

Source: IOL