We are often asked, cornered and even verbally attacked and abused on social media because we hunt Giraffe in Africa. And just like the people groups that eat other “strange” foods, we are quite baffled when this happens.
But think about it… when you tried Sushi the first time, how eager were you to try raw fish? Is it then such a stretch to go from Calamari to live squid? Every bird, every fish and every animal has its own peculiarities and its unique taste (except maybe, chicken? and Tuna… the chicken of the sea) so why are we affronted when people hunt and eat animals we don’t usually associate with “food”?
Asian people groups eats squid and the very deadly pufferfish, I do believe that rattlesnake is just as big a delicacy as bear in North America. If whale blubber is a food source… why not Giraffe?
The fact is that a giraffe is extremely difficult to hunt with a bow. The simple anatomy of a giraffe means that you cannot hunt them with any bow, or a low draw weight, or light arrows, which means not every person can hunt them, and ethical hunters understand the guidelines are there because of the very nature of the animal, so they tend to stick to those limits. Secondly, stalking the animal is extremely difficult. You are talking about an animal that has an extreme advantage when it comes seeing a predator approach. Between 4m and 5.5m tall with 6ft long legs, they can see you coming from quite a distance and even at walking pace they will put distance between you and him. 55km/h (about 35mph) at a sprint and he is gone in a flash, and do not think they stand out just because they are big and tall. They will disappear in the bush like nobody’s business.
The sheer weight of a giraffe (650kg/1500lbs for cows and 1,350kg/3,000lbs for bulls) means they have to be strong. The neck alone can weigh in the region of a quarter of a ton, and the muscles are strong enough that a decent kick can shatter the skull of a lion. If you have ever seen giraffes fight, you will definitely revise your opinion about their “gentle” nature! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDhNutbXpFE) It also means that the bones are immensely strong. When we hunt giraffe, we make up arrows specifically for the task with enough weight, enough FOC, and single bevel cutting surface matched to fletch helical to help the blade climb off the bone instead of attempting to cut into or through it. Although possible, it’s rare that you will get a passthrough on a giraffe when targeting the vitals. The ribs are thick and strong. It has to be, to be able to carry all that weight.
Hunting a giraffe with a bow is a definite challenge!
But then, why hunt the Giraffe at all? Is it only the challenge? I’d say that generally a bowhunter will hunt the giraffe for the challenge, because very few people have freezer space for 2,000lbs to 3,000lbs (900-1350kg) of meat, but in no way does it mean the life is taken just for “the challenge of it”. Every part of the Giraffe is used after the hunt. The hunter may hunt for the challenge, but the game manager doesn’t simply allow hunts.
Local butchers will buy the carcass from the hunter or game manager (typically about 750kg to 950kg or 1,600lbs to 2,100lbs) which they process into portions of BBQ sausage, burger patties, biltong (dried meat, a little like the American Jerky) and dried sausage and off course meat pie fillings and minced meat. Giraffe sausage sold to locals will cost in the region of R20 to R30 a kilogram (that’s less than $1 per pound of meat!) which literally makes it easier and cheaper to buy than to poach meat except in the most extreme cases. A 900kg (2,000lbs) Giraffe carcass can literally become 3,000 family meals.
But that’s not all, the beautiful skin gets sold at a premium and the bones, which is extremely strong gets worked into handles for utensils and small ornaments.
So, if they are such a great resource, why the outcry?
Giraffes are an African Icon. Get a mental picture of Africa, and a Giraffe will pop in there somewhere. Activists claim they are endangered, but the typical species found in Southern Africa and that are allowed to be hunted is listed in the IUCN Red List as “of least concern”. Should you, however, Google Giraffe’s you will see that some species, like the Nubian Giraffe from South Sudan and Ethiopia is on the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, the typical armchair activist doesn’t distinguish between the 9 giraffe species, and although globally declining, Giraffes in Southern Africa is stable and growing. Unfortunately, they also do not look at the other facts surrounding any given Giraffe hunt.
Most game farms have an upper limit of the amount of giraffes they can sustain, and if it weren’t for the game farms, the South African giraffe population would have been a lot lower and declining. But to keep the gene pool diverse and the population healthy, new animals needs to be introduced into the area, but that places stress on the environment (typically a Giraffe eats about 30kg (70lbs) of vegetation per day. A bull will only get into a position to mate after about 7 years so having a healthy group takes many years. When the bulls are of age and the new animals are introduced into the group, the older, past prime animals are culled to keep the group healthy, and within sustainable limits. Its part of a responsible game management program. Keep the gene pool diverse, make sure your animals have enough resources (food and water), no different than whitetail deer or cows for that matter.
in the 2016/2017 season we have seen a lot more giraffe hunts. The reason is simple: drought. We have had prolonged dry spells, with areas not seeing rain in over a year. So the farm managers have to make the call: sell or cull? Its dry everywhere, so nobody is buying giraffe, which means the only option is culling. Reduce the stress on the environment and allow the remaining animals a better chance of survival. The money raised by allowing the hunt means that more feed can be bought for the other animals in the area as well. Everybody wins. The bow hunter has a challenging hunt that stretches his or her abilities, the local population gets access to inexpensive source of clean meat, and the game manager can build a healthier pool of animals and sustain a stronger game population for longer.
No game farm will get rich on giraffe hunting. The time it takes to get mature animals that hunters would see as a challenge to hunt simply does not allow for a “quick” turnaround. But seen as part of the a whole ecosystem a giraffe lives in, at some point, bringing in a hunter is almost a certainty, and unfortunately, that is the part that very few people understand and fewer activists want to understand when they see a picture of a hunted or culled giraffe.