Menu Close

The Great Rift Valley: a divisive force impacting the Masai Giraffes

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)/November 9, 2021 – A giraffe at the Rescue and Research Centre Plettenberg Bay South Africa, situated on the Stofpad Road in Wittedrift in the Garden Route.

By Dominic Naidoo

The Great Rift Valley, a magnificent geological wonder stretching through Kenya and Tanzania, holds more than just breathtaking landscapes. It has emerged as a divisive force that threatens the very existence of the Masai giraffes, casting a dark shadow on their future and potentially affecting other species as well.

A recent study conducted by Researchers from Penn State University in the US has uncovered alarming findings about the Masai giraffe population.

The valley has acted as a formidable barrier, leading to the division of the giraffe subspecies into two distinct groups that have not interbred for over 250,000 years. The significance of this isolation lies in its impact on genetic diversity.

Interbreeding plays a vital role in preserving genetic variation, which, in turn, shields smaller populations from diseases and environmental challenges. Unfortunately, due to the geographical constraint, the two separate species face a critical vulnerability.

Douglas Cavener, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist at Penn State University, expressed the gravity of the situation, revealing that approximately 35,000 giraffes have been split into two isolated groups, with only about 20,000 individuals on each side of the valley.

Such a division raises concerns as the total number of Masai giraffes worldwide is already distressingly small. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has designated the Masai giraffe as a threatened species, but the recent findings call for even greater concern.

The smaller the population becomes, the higher the likelihood of inbreeding, which can result in what is known as “inbreeding depression.” This dangerous cycle may eventually lead to the collapse of the species.

The challenge faced by the Masai giraffes does not end with the geographical barrier. Over the last three decades, their population has drastically declined from 70,000 to a mere 35,000 individuals in the wild. This alarming decline has prompted their classification as an endangered species by the IUCN.

The executive director of Elephant Neighbours Centre, Jim Justus Nyamu, highlights another threat to the giraffes – habitat loss. Nyama told Africa News that “as the population decreases, giraffes are being forced out of protected areas like Tsavo and Amboseli due to diminishing tree cover. This pushes them into community lands, leading to conflicts between humans and wildlife.”

The consequences of the Masai giraffes’ plight extend beyond their species. With fewer giraffes, other wildlife also faces challenges. Conservationists are rallying for a giraffe poaching ban, recognising the critical role giraffes play in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

The urgency to protect these magnificent creatures is clear, and policy makers must act swiftly. Crafting a comprehensive wildlife policy that designates giraffes as an endangered species and implementing measures to safeguard their habitat is imperative.

The Masai giraffe, also known as the Kilimanjaro giraffe, stands as an emblem of the African savanna, symbolising grace and resilience. However, their future is at stake, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure their survival.

The Great Rift Valley is a vast geological feature on Earth’s surface that stretches over 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) from the Middle East to Mozambique in East Africa. It is a series of interconnected rifts and faults formed by the movement of tectonic plates.

The formation of the Great Rift Valley began around 25 million years ago during the Oligocene epoch. It is primarily the result of the divergent movement of the African and Arabian tectonic plates. As these plates move away from each other, the Earth’s crust weakens and stretches, causing the land to sink and form the characteristic valleys and steep cliffs.

In the future, the Great Rift Valley is expected to continue evolving due to ongoing tectonic activity. The movement of the plates will cause the rift to widen and deepen gradually over millions of years. Eventually, this process may lead to the complete separation of the African plate into two separate landmasses, which could create a new ocean in the area.

The geological activity in the Rift Valley makes it prone to seismic and volcanic events. As the rift continues to open, volcanic activity is likely to persist, leading to the formation of new volcanoes and volcanic landscapes.

East African governments need to stand united in protecting their habitat, curbing poaching, and fostering a future where these graceful giants continue to roam free, leaving an indelible mark on the African landscape. Our collective efforts will determine the fate of the Masai giraffes and, by extension, the well-being of our planet and its diverse inhabitants

Dominic Naidoo is an environment activist and writer

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.