By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

We humans have always considered ourselves different from every other species on Earth. But, as time goes on, scientists repeatedly show that the traits we consider unique and based on a superior intelligence are found in most animals as well. Tool using, for instance, is done by insects, fish, crows and apes.

One of these is the trait of laterality. The term laterality refers to the primary use of the left or right hemispheres of the brain. The two halves of the animal brain are not exactly alike, and each hemisphere differs in function. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side.

Most people are right handed / right sided because it is thought that the left hemisphere makes the right side stronger. Also, in 90-92% of all humans, the left hemisphere controls language.

Are animals any different?

Despite the varied structures of animal brains, many mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates have the same trait of laterality. Many animals use their left eye and left ear (indicating right brain activation) more often than the right ones when investigating objects that are potentially frightening.

Left-handed people are more vulnerable to stress, as are left pawed dogs and many other animals.

Right-handed animals have better immunity.

A 1987 study by leading animal behaviour scientists, MacNeilage, Studdert-Kennedy and Lindblom, showed that macaque monkeys have a left-hand preference. For primates in general, a left-hand preference was observed for visually guided reaching movements and a right-hand preference for manipulating objects, acts that required dexterity.

In prosimians (non-ape primates like bush-babies, lemurs, etc), the right hand is used for major tasks, like grasping a branch after a leap, and the left is used for quick small movements, like catching insects.

Young horses prefer breathing with their right nostrils. Horses with a higher emotional content prefer looking with their left eye! Recent research in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, though, showed that about 53% of horses prefer to lead with the right leg, 40% with the left and 7% showed no preference. Racehorses use the same leg in their stride unless they are forced to change it while turning, injured, or fatigued.

Dogs prefer one paw to another – except when they are frightened by noise (Bransonn and Rogers, 2006). Trainers of guide dogs, in fact, test them for laterality, as the dog may be better at walking to the left, or the right, of their blind owner.

Cattle prefer viewing new things with their left eye (as do magpies, chicks, toads and fish) and familiar things with their right eye.

Bats show a left-hand bias for climbing or grasping.

Kangaroos use their left hand for things that require fine manipulation, but the right hand for behaviour that requires physical strength.

Most parrots favour one foot when grasping objects, usually the left. 

Rainbow fish were  made to examine their reflection in a mirror. Fish which looked with their right eye swam on the left side of the group. Conversely, fish that looked with their left eye swam on the right. 

The Zebra finch male views the female with his right eye when courting her (Workman & Andrew, 1986).

Emei Music frogs listen to positive signals (like a mating call) with their right ear, and with their left  to negative signals such as predatory attacks.

Humpback whales exhibit a 75% predilection for slapping their right flukes on the water surface.

Chickens show a right foot preference in scratching the ground in their search for food. This is coupled with a dominance of the right eye in tasks requiring them to perform visual discrimination learning, such as a search for food. Studies in the 1980s, by scientists Andrew, Mench, Rainey, Zappia and Rogers, have indicated that the right eye of a chicken learns to tell the difference between food grains and small pebbles faster than the left eye. On the other hand, the left eye is used for control of attack and copulation responses. Pigeons have similar right eye dominance, but since they do not use their feet to scratch the ground for food, they have not developed a complementary right footedness.

Even invertebrates, like snails, show laterality. Their shells spiral in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. This asymmetry, called ‘chirality’, means that snails can only mate with matching snails.

The presence of laterality in the brains of birds is particularly interesting, as humans had always believed that it could only be possible if there was a corpus callosum in the brain. Avian brains do not have a corpus callosum at all, but still display laterality.

In fact, there is similarity between the avian and human brain when it comes to laterality. The songs of  the song-bird species is also controlled by the left hemisphere. There is also similarity in the syntax of bird songs and human languages. Birds go one better, however, as the brains of birds have both hemispheres working to control singing/language, while humans only possess this ability in one hemisphere.

In the same way, as we humans can open a door with either hand equally, yet struggle to write legibly with our non-dominant hand, complexity of the task appears to be an important factor in the handedness of animals. Animals that do activities requiring significant levels of dexterity, show evidence of a preferred “handedness” .

Italian researchers, Quaranta, Siniscalchi and Vallortigara,  found that dogs wag their tails to the right when they see positive stimuli which they want to approach, and they wag to the left when confronted with something they would like to avoid. This suggests that, just as for people, the right and left halves of the brain do different jobs in controlling emotions.

There is some evidence to suggest that dogs and cats can be right- or left-pawed, although the ratio seems to be more evenly split than in humans. In one study 46% cats used only the right paw in reaching for food, 44% the left, and 10% were ambilateral. One study indicates that laterality in this species is strongly related to temperament. Individuals with stronger paw preferences are rated as more confident, affectionate, active, and friendly. A study at Queen's University Belfast went further, showing that preferences of left/right are based on gender, with 95% of female cats favouring the right paw and 95% of male cats favouring the left. "There is some suggestion that limb preference might be a useful indicator of vulnerability to stress. Ambilateral animals with no preference for one side or the other, and those that are more inclined to left-limb dominance, for example, seem more flighty and susceptible to poor welfare than those who lean more heavily towards right limb use," says Dr Wells of QU, Belfast. She adds: "We have discovered that left-limbed dogs, for example, are more pessimistic in their outlook than right-limbed dogs. From a pet owner's perspective, it might be useful to know if an animal is left or right limb dominant, as it may help them gauge how vulnerable that individual is to stressful situations."

Determining which side of the brain dominates the other could change the way domestic animals are bred, raised, and used, including predicting which puppies will make the best service dogs, and which racehorses will  race better on left or right curving tracks.

So, another myth of man’s superiority bites the dust. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Vegans choose not to eat any animal products - no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey or other animal derived ingredients. They avoid fur, leather and wool products, and products that have been tested on animals, such as body care, cosmetics and house hold cleaning goods, or products containing animal ingredients.

The Swedish Ambassador told me that when he gave dinners at his home in Stockholm, if the diners were for people above sixty, he would probably just get meat eaters, but if they were for people under forty, he would, in any gathering of six people, get two vegetarians/vegans.

My Ministry just concluded the fourth national organic mela. 450 stalls. It attracted many thousand people every day. This time we had a vegan section and a vegan food court. It did extremely well – specially the vegan pizzas where the basic cheese was made of cashew. I took my office staff there for lunch and we loved the food.

Someone I know has started an online vegan shopping mall and it has 800 items on it already. He told me that he has no dearth of offers from people who would like to invest in his start up. The problem he has is with finding staff who will promote this properly.

Since more and more people are turning vegan and vegetarian for health reasons, it makes sense to start a vegan business. I just met two entrepreneurs in Nagpur, young boys who have created delicious milk made from almonds, and are now looking for someone to help them bring it to the market.

All over the world vegan businesses are starting up. From Linda McCartney, who is one of the world’s top designers and only does vegan clothes, to Sonal in Gurgaon, who runs a flourishing ice cream business that doesn’t use milk.

For some years I was on the board of an English monthly called The Vegan. It is a very chatty magazine, interviews with stars who have become vegan, vegan events that take place daily in the UK, vegan recipes, and lots of ads from vegan companies. It is over 25 years old and is still making a profit.

Michael Ofei has, on a site called The Minimalist Vegan, listed 38 business ideas that, he believes, will do well and change the appetite of the buyer towards ethical living. I too believe that if the choices were available , people would gravitate towards more ethical ones : garments that were ethically sourced and made, for instance, or delicious vegan sweets and icecreams. I bought a packet of freshly made vegan marshmallows last week and finished them in less than ten minutes!

While the demand for vegan products is now mainstream and rising, the problem is with the supply. We need to help shift the demand by increasing the supply. Here are some of Ofei’s ideas:

Food & Beverages: the obvious one is a vegan restaurant /cafe.

Vegan pizzerias with home delivery options.

Gelato Bar with dairy free ice cream.

Nut Cheese Deli.

A food truck specialising in vegan burgers.

A vegan alcoholic beverage retailer.

Vegan bakery (few people know that breads have egg and milk in them, and are sometimes meat)


Freelance illustrator who services vegan friendly small businesses.

Company accountant or bookkeeper for online vegan entrepreneurs.

Specialist in project managing organic and vegan shop fit-outs.

A social media manager for vegan businesses.

Offer copywriting services to help build the profile of vegan entrepreneurs.

An all vegan childcare centre with community veggie garden.

Vegan wedding blog producing amazing content and advertising ethical wedding brands and services.

A series of online courses teaching people how to cook different vegan cuisines at home. You can become a vegan party chef. Host vegan cooking workshops.

Develop a dating app that accurately connects vegan soulmates together.

Create a concierge service in the form of a mobile app that connects all of the local ethical trades people with vegan customers.


Online vegan shoe retailer.

Organic clothing line specialising in everyday garments like underwear, sweaters, socks.

Tailored vegan suits for men.

Create a makeup line that is vegan, fair trade, organic and eco friendly.

Build a vegan friendly and chemical free nail polish company.


Start an investment fund specifically for ethical businesses.

Become an angel investor for vegan businesses.

Here are some more  ideas of things to make :

Vegan pet food, vegan wine, body care, cosmetics,

Or go big and just open one vegan grocery store with everything in it.

Having a vegan business is great activism. It makes it easier for others to live vegan. So many carnivorous people I know say that they would change their ways partially if they could get vegan products easily and effortlessly. Make the market evolve. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, "Animals are my friends and I don't eat my friends."

It is not difficult to run a vegan business online. All over the world there are thousands of shops offering non leather shoes, boots, bags, belts wallets accessories. Food goodies includes mock meat and dairy products, along with home cleaners, toiletries, cosmetics, skin care, food such as chocolate, jams, chutney, pet care, general grocery items and household items.  When I say vegan stores, I mean those with earth sustaining products: no animal testing, no harsh chemicals, no palm oil (India is the largest importer of palm oil and, not only is it dangerous for health, it is grown by destroying millions of acres of forest and turning it into plantations. The Orangutan is one of the many species that now face extinction because of it ), and mostly locally sourced products so that fuel is not wasted in transport. Even the packaging is ethical and non plastic.

What are the items that should not be in vegan shops: T-Shirts that are made of BT Cotton (they should say ‘organic cotton”), vitamins and sweets that contain gelatine, palm oil as I said earlier, white sugar which is refined using bone, bone china, white paper or any white coloured product (bleach kills everything in the sea), chemical dyes of any kind (Rajasthan has lost most of its rivers due to these dyes. I went to see a river, near Udaipur, on my way to Sojat village which grows all the mehndi in India . The river was blood red and carcasses and the bones of animals and birds, who had drunk from it, littered its banks.) I certainly don’t agree with vegan shops that sell silver, gold and semi precious or precious stones, even if they make them into cute little animals. All these are mined on forest land, and millions of animals lose their lives in the process. Why not have amazing glass jewellery instead. Silk, wool, leather, fur, suede, feathers, coral, beewax, pearls, anything made of bone; definite no-nos

To run a credible vegan shop, one has to be very discerning and look at every ingredient of every item. It is difficult to find biscuits that do not have palm oil in them, for instance. But they do exist.

I have often said that the heart is a door. When it opens, it opens for all. Most vegan shops go out of their way to see that that not only are the products made of sustainable material, but also that they use less water and are not made in sweatshops (paying low wages for long hours of work to poor people). Some go even further and source products from democratic countries only (where do they find these ??) 

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By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

This is for all those people who write to me complaining about the dogs on the streets. They always start their emails by saying they are great animal lovers and they have dogs of their own BUT we must do something about the “dog menace” in order for them, their children, and their dogs, to move freely without encountering “junglees”, “strays”, “ pi-dogs”.

While the government, and all the courts, have ordered sterilization of all dogs by all municipalities and district administrations, in reality less than a tenth of the country is doing it. Lack of vets, lack of money and, the most important, is lack of vision. The dog sterilization programme is controlled by the Ministry of Environment, who put out less than 50 lakhs a year for it, instead of the Ministry for Health which has been allocated more than Rs 300 crores. But the Ministry for Environment will not hand it over. And the Ministry for Health is not trying too hard because, as their secretary said to me “Our job is not to sterilize dogs”. Since this would come under the heading of rabies control, I asked why they were killing mosquitoes since that was not their job. Because, that was the only way to bring malaria under control. Exactly. Sterilizing and vaccinating dogs would remove rabies within 5 years.

It is difficult to educate bureaucrats, since the space where their brains should be is filled with ego and a limited logic that runs only on one narrow gauge track.

However, here is another way to deal with the dogs and cats on the road. Illegal breeders are breeding lakhs of pedigreed dogs who are unhealthy, inbred and found in every pet shop. It is now illegal for any pet shop to keep any animals without a registration, which is very strict, but our feet on the ground are so limited and so vulnerable to bribes that I am not sure how long it will take the authorities to apply the new laws.

So, here is what we can do:

America’s shelters have a kill policy. Abandoned animals in shelters are allowed to live 28 days and if they are not adopted, they are killed. Over the years a large number of no-kill shelters have come up. But the dogs live in cages for the rest of their lives, unless they are adopted.

In 2017 , California passed a law, A.B.485, that pet stores will only sell puppies, kittens and rabbits from shelters and rescue centres. Violators will be fined $ 500 and shut down. This effectively puts an end to commercial animal breeders and brokers, and to the terrible practice of illegal breeding. Just recently we had to rescue 11 dogs in the backyard of a doctor in Thane. They were starved, on the verge of death, eating their own faeces, but each had given birth to any number of puppies who had been sold by the doctor with forged certificates as to their foreign pedigree.

The pet trade in America predictably protested saying that “it would jeopardise  jobs”. (They were overruled). But in India the trade does not employ anyone. It is an illegal business which operates by taking a few dogs, tying them up, forcibly breeding them every six months and then putting them in illegal pet shops. It will put no one out of business.

Why not bring the same law into India. Almost every city now has an animal welfare group. Many of them have animal shelters. My shelter in Delhi, Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre, gets  a minimum of ten throwaways a day. People who have bought pedigreed dogs, kept them badly, made them sick, tied them up the whole day and made them ferocious, and then they come to the hospital, pretend they have come for medicine /treatment and then, when they think no one is looking, they run off, leaving the dog behind in an alien, diseased, unfriendly surrounding. We take Rs 15,000 for each abandoned animal but, in order not to pay, these people – who have paid far more in buying the dogs, will tie them to the gate or even throw them over the wall.

Most of the abandoned dogs are Pomeranians and Spitzes. The others are Labradors, and the huge woolly Swiss ones that were originally smuggled into India. And, of course, lots of Vodafone pugs. We put the dogs into a special enclosure, in full view of the hundreds of visitors who come, so that they can adopt them. Some get homes. Others waste away with broken hearts, and the terror of being in an uncomfortable enclosure with fifty other dogs, till they die. My sister takes the most damaged ones home, and she has 17 in her tiny house. I have 24.  Once they recover and bounce back, we try and find homes for them.

So, if we made it compulsory for pet shops to only sell dogs and cats from shelters, we would be able to achieve two things: the abandoned foreign animals would find homes and the shelters would make a little money. The dogs/cats could be sterilized, vaccinated and made healthy before selling – unlike the pedigreed dogs/cats that come from breeders . They are sold without vaccinations and most of them die as puppies of distemper and parvo.

The other thing it would achieve is that pet shops will start selling the cutest Indian puppies supplied to them from shelters. No shelter will breed foreign dogs, so, , in the absence of formal retail outlets, the breeding of foreign dogs will go down. People who want dogs will take Indian dogs. People who like buying dogs will buy them from shops.

Please start campaigning in your states for this. We can make the world a much kinder place if we push for the right things. 

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By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

A friend of mine feeds the crows in Mumbai. He calls them by name and they come to feed. But while the birds listen to him, he, of course, can’t understand a single word they say.

That is the siddhi I wish I had.

In mythology and medieval literature the language of the birds is considered divine, a language used by the birds to communicate with only the initiated.

Birds communicate with animals – ravens lead wolves to prey and then feed off the remains. The Greater Honeyguide bird leads bears to forest beehives and eats the leftovers.

In Norse mythology the power to understand bird language was considered the ultimate wisdom. The god Odin had two ravens, called Huginn and Muninn, who flew around the world and told Odin what happened among mortal men. The legendary king of Sweden, Dag the Wise, had a sparrow which flew around and brought back news to him. According to the Poetic Edda and the Völsunga saga, the 9th century Viking hero Sigurd was given this gift of understanding, and his life was saved as he listened to  birds discussing an enemy’s plans to kill him.

Jason was an ancient Greek mythological hero, a descendent of the messenger god Hermes. His quest for the Golden Fleece features in Greek literature. He assembled a band of heroes whose tales have been recounted for 3000 years now. They sailed in the ship Argo and were collectively called the Argonauts. The figurehead of Argo, Jason’s ship, was built of oak from the sacred grove at Dodona and could speak the language of birds.

In the Talmud of the Jews, King Solomon’s proverbial wisdom was due to his being granted the understanding of the language of birds by God. This carries over into the Quran where Suleiman (Solomon) and David both knew the language of birds.

The Conference of the Birds is a beautiful Sufi poem written by the 12th Century Persian poet Attar of Nishapur. The story begins with a meeting of all of the world’s birds to decide who will be their sovereign. The hoopoe, the wisest of all, proposes finding the simurgh (a mythical, benevolent bird related to the Phoenix) to resolve the dilemma. The poem describes their journey and the moral learning they encounter along their way.

The concept of the hero being given the gift of understanding bird language. either by some magical transformation, or as a reward for a good deed in folk tales, extends across the world - including Welsh, Russian, German, Estonian, Greek and Romany.

In the Jewish Kabbalah astrology and alchemy, the language of the birds, also called the Green Language, is considered a secret and perfect language and the key to perfect knowledge. The language was supposed to have been scripted by the Egyptian bird headed god Thoth. The Egyptians considered hieroglyphic writing "the alphabet of the birds.”

The Raven in Native American Indian lore is the bearer of magic, and a harbinger of messages from the cosmos. Messages that are beyond space and time are nestled in the black wings of the raven and come to only those in the tribe who are worthy of the knowledge.

This ability to use grammar is the essence of language. It is not enough to know the meanings of words, the structures and rules by which words are put together have to be understood. The view has been that humans are unique in this ability. Now scientists have found that songbirds have the same ability. Like us they learn the language by imitating their elders. But as they practice to develop their ability, they  improvise and string together new songs and, over generations, these modified songs turn into new dialects. And, like us, they come hard-wired with ‘speech-centers’ in their brain that are dedicated to language processing.

An experiment from 2009, by Fehér and colleagues, took newly hatched songbirds of the zebra finch species and raised them in sound proof chambers. They did this during their critical period of language development. These birds were raised in a world without song. But when they got together these isolated birds began to develop their own songs. These songs were less musical than typical songbird song - they had irregular rhythms, the notes stuttered and sounded noisier. But, in time, the songs became more like the songs of the wild songbirds, even though none of these birds had ever heard wild songs. Which means they had an innate understanding of the structures/grammar of their language. That is that finches who have never head the birdsong of their elders still absorb many of these grammatical rules.

A study by Kentaro Abe and Dai Watanabe, published in Nature magazine, focused on a species of songbird called Bengalese finches. A song bird responds to a song with its own song (we call it song but it is normal conversation).

The researchers kept playing the same song and the bird lost interest after a while and did not respond. Then they altered it slightly and got a response ('who are you' became 'why are you', for instance.)

The researchers taught grammar to the birds  by inventing a set of grammatical rules, and generating 50 songs that obeyed these rules. They repeated these songs to the birds for an hour, like a schoolteacher drilling 50 sentences into a new pupil. They then waited 5 minutes, and played the birds a new song that either fit this grammatical rule or broke the rule. The birds responded to the correct grammatical sentences, whereas the ungrammatical sentences ruffled their feathers. The birds were able to assimilate the rules of this new grammar!

What is the biological driving force behind this talent for grammar? Our brains have specific regions that 'light up' when we listen to a grammatically invalid construction. A specific area of the brain known as Broca's region has the ability to understand and produce grammatical speech. Scientists claim to have identified regions in the finches' brains that do the same.

So, birds have a proper language. Alas, I have not received the gift of being able to understand it. 

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By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

In 1990 I went to the dreadful Kolkata zoo. They had imported a young female giraffe from Africa- a practice we need to ban. She was utterly beautiful with her shy long lashed eyes and graceful ballet legs. I named her Teesta – after the mysterious and spectacular river. The Kolkata zoo officials, and the Minister, promised that they were going to relocate the zoo to a large area where the animals would roam free. Forty years and at least 4,000 deaths later I am still waiting. Teesta is dead. The Kolkata zoo decided to relocate the giraffes to Odisha’s Nandankanan zoo. They loaded them into an open truck and, while they were swerving, the animals hit their heads on an electric pole and died.

While the world concentrates on lions, gorillas and elephants being decimated, the giraffe is almost extinct. In the last 15 years the population of giraffes has fallen by 40%. Now there are less than 80,000 left and they reduce every day. Soon, they will only be seen in zoos and then it’s over.

The main culprits in this case are the Americans. Conservation groups, like Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have been petitioning the government since the last two years to protect giraffes under the Endangered Species Act. No action has been taken.

What difference will it make to giraffes in Africa if America passes the Act? Because giraffes are losing their lives to tribal hunting and to souvenir hunters in America, who kill through Fedex- one giraffe is killed for a carving to be made on its bone. On average, the U.S. imports about one giraffe hunting trophy a day, and the country has imported 21,402 bone carvings, 3,008 skin pieces and 3,744 miscellaneous hunting trophies from giraffes over the last few years . Giraffe bones are now the new ivory and the USA is heavily implicated in the trade with its large market for giraffe parts. Once China gets into it as well- then giraffes will be gone in six months.

Africa now has fewer giraffes than elephants. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature elevated the threat level to giraffes from “least concern” to “vulnerable” on its “Red List of Threatened Species” in 2016.

Giraffes are the tallest mammals on Earth. Their legs alone are taller than many humans. They can run at 35 miles an hour – but who can run fast enough to dodge a hunter’s bullet?

They are found in the dry savannas of Africa, where they roam on the open plains and sparse woodlands. They eat acacia leaves from the trees – their necks are far too short to reach the ground, but long enough to reach the tree tops.. Their long blue tongues help them pull down 45 kg of leaves and twigs daily. Their height, and eyesight, makes it easy for them to spot predators, like lions and hyenas, from far away. Their kicks are strong and sometimes lethal. They bellow, snort, hiss and make flute like sounds.

Giraffes are social animals and roam around in groups of females and calves led by an adult male. Giraffes can live till 40. The age can be found in the skin spots. The darker the spots, the older the giraffe.

Female giraffes give birth standing up. Newborns fall 6 feet to the ground but within 30 minutes they are standing, and hours later they're able to run with their mothers.

The gestation period for a giraffe is 457 days, which is about 15 months. Generally, only a single baby is born. A female giraffe averages around five calves in her lifetime About 50 per cent of all giraffe calves do not survive their first year. This percentage of infant mortality goes up, depending on the number of lions in the area. Recent studies show the death of 82% of young calves in lion rich areas.

Giraffes used to be distributed throughout North and West Africa, including the Sahara, and along the Nile. Today giraffes are only found in sub-Saharan Africa. From herds of 20-30 animals in the 90s, their average herd now contains fewer than six individuals.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the creatures are undergoing a "silent extinction". A mass extinction of giraffes will disrupt ecosystems in Africa, with the lions next.

In the war torn areas of northern Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan the giraffe is seen as a large animal whose meat can feed a large number of people – and all it costs is a single bullet. The giraffe is dispersed over 21 countries, in state-owned national parks, private and communal lands. Out of nine subspecies fewer than 300 “West African giraffes” survive in Niger and less than 700 “Rothschild’s giraffes” are dispersed between Uganda and Kenya, according to a report by wildlife experts at Elephant Without Borders. Kenya is down from 30,000 mammals in the 1990s to 5,500 today.

The statistics of their survival now go from the species increasing in southern Africa over the last three decades, to decreasing by 95% in East Africa. The success in keeping giraffe numbers high in Southern Africa has much to do with the management of the wildlife areas.

In Tanzania the belief is that consuming giraffe brains and bone marrow could be a cure for HIV -  “freshly severed heads and giraffe bones can fetch prices of up to $140 per piece.”

Giraffe is a part of bush meat in a number of rural African communities. Their skin is used for clothing, shoes, bags, belts, hats and covers for drums. Their hair makes jewellery, thread for sewing or stringing beads. Their tails are used to swish flies away and were originally symbols of authority.

Many African governments have restrictions on hunting, bans on hunting in National Parks, introduction of license systems, but people continue to hunt wildlife illegally. And American tourists pay local poachers to do the hunting and send them the parts through couriers, like the Minnesota dentist who had Cecil, the iconic and protected lion in Zimbabwe, killed in 2015 and the head shipped to him. The US is the largest importer of trophies in the world.

As human populations grow, and increase agricultural activities expand settlements, and construct roads, the giraffe is losing its acacia trees, which are its main source of food. They face the risk of collisions with vehicles and power lines. But the species is mainly threatened by “trophy” hunters who travel to Africa to shoot their big-game quarry. These hunters overwhelmingly come from the US. In August pictures emerged of a 12-year-old girl from Utah posing with her rifle beside the slumped body of a dead giraffe. “In the past few years, several gruesome images of trophy hunters next to slain giraffe bodies have caused outrage, bringing this senseless killing to light,” said Masha Kalinina, international trade policy specialist with Humane Society International.

Giraffes are one of the most iconic animals in the world, but the clock is now ticking for their survival.

America’s government must realize the importance of banning giraffe trophies. An endangered species listing would place heavy restrictions on any American hunter wishing to travel to Africa and bring back a slaughtered giraffe.

ABCD books for children have all got G for giraffe. How will we explain to a child in ten years time what a giraffe was? 

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