Reub's journey

13 September 2009


Its hoofs do not tread on living beings and in its wanderings it carefully selects its ground. It walks in stately fashion and in its every motion it observes a rhythm.
"The African Unicorn," Chinese poet and artist Shen Du (1357-1434)

I was riding in the aisle seat of a small crowded bus enroute from Niamey to Birnin Konni, Niger, squeezed between a polite young girl on one side, and John, in the window seat next to me. My feet were wedged on top of my pack, my knees against the seat in front of me; I had just begun to doze when John suddenly jabbed me and said "LOOK!" My eyes flew open and there they were: gliding through the scrubby trees maybe 100 yards off of the highway, five giraffes. Three seconds later we looked at each other in surprise; they were gone and only the two of us had seen them.

Two weeks later, back in Niamey, we debated whether to fork out the $250 it would cost to pay for the required car, guide, and permit to go back and see if we could get a longer look at a few of Niger's giraffes: the last self-sustaining herd of giraffes in West Africa. It was a short debate. Of course we would. But we were given to understand that despite having a guide, we wouldn't automatically see the giraffes. And when we did see them, would it be, "Yep, there they are, now we turn around and go back..."?

It was like this. The cheerful driver picked us up at our little hotel in Niamey at 8:30 AM, and by 10:30 AM we were in the area north of Dosso officially known as the "Zone Giraffe."

The guide hopped on top of our vehicle and said he would signal us when he spotted a giraffe...thirty seconds later he rapped on the windshield, and there was our first giraffe, munching on tree leaves a short distance from the car.

Although I knew we were looking for giraffes I was still floored, astonished, left breathless with amazement, as if I had just seen a unicorn. The closeness of it, those liquid eyes, the slender body, the unhurried caution of this rare creature in the midst of a desert. I realized that I had begun to cry. How foolish! But only for a moment; soon I was just happily enamored, caught up with looking.

Isn't he gorgeous? Males grow to be 18 feet tall in this sub-species of giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta ), found only in Niger.

The giraffes are not in a park. They share their habitat with livestock and villagers. Although this is an uneasy alliance in a country where people starve, the numbers of giraffes have more than quadrupled since 1996. At that time there were fewer than 50 animals heading towards extinction. In 2009 there are over 200 giraffes, making it on their own.

Researchers recognize individual animals according to their unique markings: no two are the same. (Furthermore, I have to say it: we saw a mama and a baby!)

The foot prints were big.

Their bodies were so tall and slender, and as if by magic they could disappear into the bush within moments.

But there was really no hurry. We watched them to our hearts' content. Finally we started noticing other things, like the huge termite mounds everywhere.

A group shot of Jessica and myself along with driver and guides.

If you want to find out more about Niger's giraffes, read this Smithsonian article.

All photos copyright of John Bliss. Thank you John!


  1. Your experiences are extraordinary and inspiring. The giraffe is a beautiful creature and it is so magnificent. Great photos.

  2. oh my gosh. thank you for making me stop to dwell for a few minutes on something i take for granted from my few encounters in the zoo. i mean, holy cow, what an UNLIKELY ANIMAL!!! what were they thinking??????? how did this happen??? it is totally unsettling and awesome. they're like cranes towering about a city of trees. only much more beautiful. wow. I'M crying just THINKING about it.

  3. What beautiful animals. I love the picture of the giraffe's head sticking up through the canopy of the tree. For such huge animals I was impressed with the trim silhouette they make from the front, which together with their markings must help them with camouflage.

  4. Kerry, I totally identify with your first reaction to those beautiful animals. We saw our first in Serengeti, and I loved watching them run - looked just like rocking horses!! And I love, love, love the long eye lashes! Such a gentle creature.


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