Understanding a skin disease that’s peculiar to giraffes
7 days ago, 10:23
Two years ago, the conservation status of giraffes was downgraded from “least concern” to “vulnerable” after it was discovered that the species had declined by 40 percent over the past 30 years.
Giraffe populations are largely threatened by human activities. These include habitat loss and fragmentation, civil unrest, illegal hunting, poaching and climate change.
Protecting them has become a priority. This is particularly true in East Africa which is home to an estimated 55.2 per cent of the remaining 100,000 giraffes living in the wild in Africa. They are mostly concentrated in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Our research identified another threat, a disease generically referred to as Giraffe Skin Disease. The disease is characterised by large greyish-brown lesions that form on various parts of a giraffe’s body. We conducted our research in 2014 and by 2015 Giraffe Skin Disease was recorded in seven African countries – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The disease is most prevalent in East Africa, where it affects 86 per cent of the giraffes in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania.
The disease can break out in different parts of a giraffe’s body depending where they’re located. For example, in Tanzania giraffes’ legs are affected while in Uganda it tends to be the neck and shoulders.
We were unable to establish whether the disease was fatal. But we concluded that it’s possible giraffe are made more vulnerable to predators if they have lesions that make fleeing a predator difficult.
Giraffes face unprecedented risks as the region experiences some of the fastest human population growth rates in the world. One of consequences is likely to be subsistence hunting. According to conservation organisations in southern Kenya, if a poacher manages to sell meat as well as parts from a single giraffe, the return can fetch a minimum of $1,000. This is enough to purchase a motorbike.
In northern Tanzania, giraffe parts are used in traditional medicine. And giraffe bone marrow and brains are incorrectly believed to cure Aids.
Poison arrows, spears, and rifles are used to kill giraffes. However, the most common tools used are wire snares attached to trees. These typically capture giraffes around their necks or legs. In areas such as Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, giraffes aren’t necessarily the intended target when caught in snares. The traps are set to capture smaller antelope for food but can trap giraffes. The injuries they sustain can be fatal.
Giraffe skin disease is reportedly caused by a parasitic worm – the specific species of the worm has not been identified. The severity of the lesions is further complicated by secondary fungal infections. While the severe form of the disease restricts the movement of giraffes, very few studies have examined the exact cause of the disease and its physiological effects. In addition, it is still unclear whether the disease leads to mortality.
As humans and wildlife become more interactive with increasing encroachment of wildlife habitats, there should be a bigger focus on wildlife diseases. Understanding the effects ...
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