OF All The Large African Mammals - that veterinarian Pete Morkal has had to capture over his career - lions, forest elephants, white rhinos - giraffes are the most stressful.

''With other animals you're trying to give just enough anesthetic to immobilize them, but with a giraffe, we use a total overdose to chemically knock them off their feet,'' the sun-leathered 59-year-old tells me as -

As I stalk him stalking a two-year-old female giraffe somewhere in the Nigerian bush, about 60 miles east of Niamey, Niger's capital.

He is wearing a camp hat and a pair of torn, purple-checkered boxers that he's been wearing as shorts for the past several days.

Morkel has loaded his dart gun with a dose of etorphine, an opioid 6,000 times powerful than morphine. Once it penetrates the giraffe's skin, he and his team will have just minutes to chase down the animal, tackle her, and inject her neck with an antidote to keep her from dying.

If she can be successfully captured and survive a 500-mile translocation across Niger, she'll become one of of eight founding ''Adams'' and ''Eves'' of a new population of one of the world's rarest mammals.

THE GIRAFFES we have chased for a week are the descendants of some 50 animals that made their way to West African country of Niger in the late 1980s, when drought and war pushed pushed them from their habitat in neighbouring Mali.

They walked south-southeast across the Sahel, along the Niger River, and skirted Niamey before settling in the Koure region, on a dry and dusty plateau.

A Fulani herder named Amadou Haama, 76, recalled what it was like decades ago when he first encountered one of these giraffes one evening while tending his cattle. ''We thought it was the devil, because of that neck and those horns.

People had told me about dangerous animals like lions, but nobody had ever told me about the giraffe. We were frightened. Even the cows were frightened.''

These newly arrived giants were the last survivors of a once vast population of ''white giraffes''  whose range at the turn of the last century spanned all of West Africa, from the coast of Senegal to Nigeria.

IN 2016 a team of scientists came to an epiphany [if still contentious] about giraffes. Until the conventional view held that all giraffes belonged to a single species, Giraffa camelopardalis. But genetic analysis now suggests that giraffes are in fact four distinct species, actually more different from each other than brown bear is from the polar bear.

And those four species can be further classified into five subspecies, including the rare West African Giraffa camelopardalis peralta, the pale, spotted refugees now found only in the Koure region of Niger.

Based on the new taxonomy, all but two subspecies would be considered vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, and across Africa, populations have declined by almost 40 percent over the past three decades, leaving an estimated 110, 000 giraffes in the world.

The honor and serving of the latest research on endangered mammals, continues. The World Students Society thanks National Geographic.


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