Giraffe with eye tumour makes world weep

Photo that went viral jolts KWS to action, hunt to save ailing giraffe

In Summary

• KWS trying to find the giraffe in Lake Nakuru National Park after Photo went viral.

•The population of Rothschild’s giraffe Sin Kenya was 609 at last census.

A Rothschild's giraffe, one of the most endangered species, last Saturday at Lake Nakuru National Park.
POOR GIRAFFE: A Rothschild's giraffe, one of the most endangered species, last Saturday at Lake Nakuru National Park.

One of the world's most beautiful and graceful animals, the iconic giraffe, has become a sad cause célèbre because one of them has a huge eye tumour surrounded by a swarm of buzzing flies.

The giraffe's profile photo has gone viral, conservationists worldwide are distraught and the Kenya Wildlife Service is trying to find it somewhere in the 188-square kilometre Nakuru National Park.

It is a rare Rothchild's graft, one of only  609 in Kenya, according to the last census.


Last evening, KWS was combing the park for the ailing giraffe.

"Kindly help campaign for the treatment of this giraffe. It is a Rothschild's giraffe, one of the most endangered species," Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (Mesha) said on Twitter.

Mesha is an association of science journalists and communicators from all over Kenya.

Yesterday, KWS confirmed that the ailing giraffe had been brought to its attention. 

"Yes. Our vet team is on standby to treat the giraffe and is looking for it," KWS corporate communications manager Paul Udoto said.

He said the nature of the tumour is yet to established. Tissue samples will have to be tested in a laboratory to establish the nature of the tumour and its treatment.

Udoto said the case has only been confirmed in Nakuru.

Udoto's colleague Ngugi Gecaga told the Star on the phone there could be one or two other cases within Nakuru.

"The giraffe will have to be brought down using ropes as they cannot be darted because they are delicate," Gecaga said.

Giraffe immobilisation is quite a tricky exercise given the animal's height, their martial defence kicks and because the animal cannot go down on its own.

Gecaga said the terrain was also proving tough for the search team.

Nine species of giraffe are found in Africa, three of them in Kenya.

These are the reticulated giraffe also known as the Somali giraffe (15,524) Rothschild’s giraffe ( 609) and the Masai giraffe (12,717).

Giraffe specimens are traded internationally, although the country of origin, the subspecies, and whether the specimens were legally acquired, are unknown.

The giraffe is not listed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and, therefore, no CITES trade data exist.

Many giraffes range countries have laws prohibiting their hunting, including Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda and Zambia.

Most of these countries would benefit from capacity-building to increase enforcement. 

Kenya together with Chad and other countries are fighting in Geneva to have CITES include the giraffe species in Appendix II.

The move will help regulate the international trade in all specimens.

Habitat loss, illegal hunting, including for bushmeat, and ecological changes are the main threats to the giraffe.

However, this is not the first time such ailments are reported.

In June this year, KWS was forced to clarify that a pictured giraffe, whose body was covered in warts, was in South Africa, not in Kenya.

In photos shared on social media, a giraffe with the papilloma virus was supposedly photographed in Laikipia National Reserve.

But according to authorities, the pictures were taken in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

“Kenya Wildlife Service wishes to state that the photograph of a sickly giraffe doing the rounds on social media does not originate from Kenya, as many have been led to believe. The person who forwarded the post omitted to indicate its rightful origin/location, which led to other social media users to think is in Kenya,” KWS said in an email to news agency AFP.

The French news agency reported that in South Africa, a spokesman for Kruger National Park said that several giraffes had been spotted with the papilloma virus but that they were not being treated as the park had let 'nature take its course'.

On  August 2 this year, a female giraffe with an embedded spear was reported to Kenya's Amboseli vet team.

The team, with the help of Olgulului community rangers, promptly visited the Ongata area where she was spotted.

The spear was eventually extracted and the wound disinfected and treated.

Fortunately, the spear was not barbed and hence inflicted only moderate damage. Off to a good recovery, the giraffe is not expected to have complications.