Niger: It’s difficult to escape poverty — even in a game park
I mentioned in one of my first blogs that Niger is home to West African giraffes. Since I’ve been in Niger I’ve been keen to see them— to experience more of the country than the poverty and hunger that I’ve seen in abundance.
So this Sunday a few of us headed out of Niamey, the country’s capital, to a national park about 60km east of the city, where we’d heard we would find the last remaining West African giraffes. We paid our park fees, picked up our guide, sat up on the roof of our vehicle for the best viewing spot and headed off into the bush.
It was extremely difficult to pick out the giraffes at first — their orange, brown spots kept them well camouflaged against the sandy landscape. Luckily our guide had the eyesight of a hawk and could spot them from a massive distance.
Apparently there are about 210 giraffes remaining in Niger. We probably saw about 20 of these in small groups. We saw some mothers with their young, who were as young as five months. They really are amazing creatures; so graceful despite their extremely long necks. We sat watching them reaching high to pluck leaves from the very tops of the trees and half do the splits to be able to drink from the little water still remaining in the muddy pools.
A few giraffe facts:
· They live to the grand old age of about 45 to 50 years old (so older than the average Nigerien woman)
· Each female gives birth to approximately eight young (so about the same as the average Nigerien woman)
· Pregnancy lasts fifteen months (hopefully not the same as for the average Nigerien woman!)
The area of land where the giraffes live is shared with camels, goats, cattle and a few villages dotted through the landscape. The livestock we saw were looking extremely thin.
One boy, who came over from his village to see what we were doing, was very obviously chronically malnourished — he hadn’t had enough food or enough micronutrients since he was born. The impact of this deficiency over the first two years of a child’s life is stunting — both physically and mentally. And it’s irreversible.
This is why it’s so important that the work we’re doing in Niger to respond to this food crisis doesn’t just address the short-term problems of hunger that families and their children are facing right now, but also works to improve the long term health issues they face.
I realised that it’s difficult to escape the poverty that most Nigeriens live with, even in a game park.
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