Famous giraffe sanctuary in Niger faces troubled future after massacre

Giraffes, photo: Julie Wolpers on Unsplash
Giraffes, photo: Julie Wolpers on Unsplash

The Koure Giraffe Reserve in Niger faces a troubled future after eight people, six French aid workers and their Nigerien guide and driver, were killed at the park a month ago.

The park is a haven for the West African giraffe. According to Niger’s environment ministry, the sanctuary had 50 giraffes in 1996, but with the income from European tourists, the giraffes increased to 664 in 2019.

The park has been a huge success in conservation terms. In 2018, seven females and three males were transferred to the Gadabedji park in central Niger to help prevent overpopulation.

After the massacre on the 9th of August, the government closed the park. France placed the site on its red list, which means French citizens are advised not to travel there.

Villagers depend on the giraffes
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths. We are all brothers because we live thanks to the giraffes,” said Ousseini Idrissa, one of the 11 guides who are now out of work. “If the white peoples stop coming to see the giraffes, our families will also suffer, because the giraffes are our only means of survival.”

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. International NGOs have been financing projects to help local people diversify their income, making them less dependent on growing crops that might be eaten by giraffes.

The list of benefits for neighboring villages is long, including pharmacies, schools, mills to grind grain, seeds and fertilizers, as well as no-interest loans to women to help them set up a small business.

“If the park no longer operates we will be the big losers,” said Assa Issa, a villager. She gets her water from a water pump that was financed by an NGO that protects giraffes.

Giraffes must stay in Koure
Ramatou Issa, a fruit vendor near the entrance of the reserve, said “the government must set up a military base here immediately! If the area is abandoned, it will become a den of bandits.”

Sani Ayouba, of the Young Volunteers for the Environment, said he fears the attack will cause “the end of all the activities which help keep the giraffes in this reserve”.

“Everything must be done to keep the giraffes in Koure. If they permanently migrate to conflict zones, the species will go extinct,” an expert, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

Omer Dovi of the Association to Safeguard Giraffes in Niger fears a rise in poaching: “If the locals no longer benefit from the presence of giraffes, then they will attack one giraffe, then two, then three…”

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