Sinister Tail Clippers

Sinister Tail Clippers

Poaching increases during tough economic times but is usually limited to elephants and rhino. Looks like giraffe are now being taken, too.

Wildlife officials at Arusha National Park (which is locally fondly called “giraffic park”) reported this weekend that a growing number of giraffe are being seen without tails!

Years ago when I first worked in Africa elephant hair bracelets were all the rage. I even bought them myself in the early 1970s, before elephant poaching had achieved such an insidious level. Later when we began to realize elephant were really threatened, the market turned briefly in the 1980s to giraffe hair bracelets.

I remember thinking at the time that the elephant hair was a poor man’s byproduct of the elephant hunt, but I also remember wondering if giraffe were really hunted, too. Farside cartoon material, of course: “Twili’s Twiga Barbershop”.

At the time there was only one market for giraffe hair bracelets: tourists. And there will always be a small market of tourists insensitive to the horror involved in bringing that hair to market.

Giraffe are fairly tame creatures in national parks, and especially so in Arusha. Around the Momela Gate – where the tailless giraffe are said to live – tourists have reported actually touching young giraffe. The young, especially, would be easy prey for getting their tails snipped off.

But would it really be worth it to the errant poacher? A giraffe kick – even from a youngster – is lethal.

A number of wildlife and health department officials working in the West Kilimanjaro region – the corridor between Kenya’s Amboseli national park and Tanzania’s Arusha national park – have reported whole giraffes being poached… to cure AIDS.

Apparently clever hair-tonic like salesmen are traveling in the more rural areas with concoctions of giraffe bone marrow that has achieved the reputation of being able to cure AIDS.

Tough economic times bring out the worst and the most creatively worst in all of us. So it’s likely that young giraffe aren’t having their tails snipped off – they’re being killed completely.

And so tourists blithely purchasing a giraffe hair bracelet on the streets of Arusha are supporting a much more onerous syndicate than weird tail clippers.