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Endangered Masai giraffes are even more at risk than previously thought, researchers from Penn State University have found.
Because of a valley running through Kenya and Tanzania, the subspecies has divided into two groups that haven’t interbred in more than 250,000 years. It means there are actually two smaller groups of separate species — and both are at risk. These giraffes are facing a greater threat to their existence than previously thought.
The study has shown that the Great Rift Valley running through Kenya and Tanzania has divided the subspecies, stopping the exchange of genetic material. The genomic analysis of 100 Masai giraffes showed that the giraffes had not migrated from either side of the rift to breed in the past 250,000 to 300,000 years. Interbreeding is of great significance as it enhances genetic diversity, thus shielding small populations from diseases.
The Masai giraffe is also known as the Kilimanjaro giraffe and is found exclusively in Kenya and Tanzania. However, its population has declined over the last three decades from 70,000 to 35,000 individuals in the wild, thus leading to its classification as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The main threats to the species are poaching as well as habitat loss and fragmentation, according to the IUCN. Kenya’s savanna ecosystems host three out of nine giraffe species, attracting numerous tourists.
Conservationists are campaigning for a giraffe poaching ban. “I do know that our regulations, policy, giraffes were not classified as an endangered species so if today you arrest someone with a giraffe’s product, there is no regulation at the moment. What we only talk about is bushmeat. Bushmeat is any species that is not of concern. So it is time the policymakers craft a wildlife policy immediately as soon as we can to put those animals there,” says Jim Justus Nyamu, executive director of Elephant Neighbors Center.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.