West African giraffe: Distribution, Habitat, Ecology, and Conservation

West African giraffe

The West African giraffe, Nigerien giraffe or Niger giraffe, is a subspecies of the giraffe distinguished by its light-colored spots found in the Sahel districts of West Africa.

Distribution and habitat

The West African giraffe population relies upon seasonal migration between the drier highlands near Kouré and the drought-resistant lowlands of the Niger River valley. In this region, Tiger bush habitat allows for bands of trees to thrive in environments that might otherwise become more conventional desert.

Before WW I (World War I), West African giraffes lived in pockets right across the Sahel and savanna areas of West Africa. Extensive population growth, involving more intensive hunting and farming, a bunch of dramatic droughts since the late 19th century, and environmental destruction (both human-made and natural) have all contributed to their sad decline. As late as the 1960s, before the Sahel drought that lasted right into the early 1980s, populations identified as G. c. Peralta existed in Niger, Senegal, eastern Mali, northern Nigeria, northern Benin, northern Cameroon, and southwest Chad.

However, new genetic research has revealed that the populations from southern Chad and northern Cameroon actually are the Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum). Therefore, the giraffes in Cameroon (Waza National Park) belong to the Kordofan giraffe, while the only surviving population of the West African giraffe is in Niger. In Niger, herds have been recorded from the Agadez Region and across the south and west of the country. Herds frequently traveled into the Gao Region of Mali and throughout the Niger River valley. Sadly, the drought struck again in the 1980s CE and 1990s CE. In 1991 CE, there were less than 100 in the nation, with the biggest herd in the western Dosso Region numbering less than 60, and separated individuals along the Niger River valley reportedly moving from Benin to parts of Mali and clinging to the W National Park and other reserves.

Ecology and behaviour

The West African giraffe live mainly on a diet of leaves from Hyphaene thebaica and Acacia albida and Parinari macrophylla, Annona senegalensis, Balanites aegyptiaca, and Piliostigma reticulatum. In the late 1990 CEs, an anti-desertification project for the region around Niamey encouraged the spread of woodcutting businesses. An unintended effect of this was the loss of much Tiger bush and giraffe territory within the region. The Nigerien government has since moved to stop woodcutting in the region.


In the early-1990s CE, there were only 50 in the whole of West Africa. These giraffes were officially preserved by the Niger Government and have now risen to over 750. Conservation efforts since the 1990s CE have led to enormous population growth, though primarily limited to the single Dosso herd. From a low of 45 individuals, in 2007, there were some 200 wild individuals, 270 in 2010, and 390 in the Nigerien government’s 2011 count. There are now about 750 wild west African giraffes as of 2021.

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