by Kelsey Burr, Naples Zoo Marketing Associate
Standing near one of our giraffes inspires two emotions in me. First, even at nearly six and half feet tall, I feel ridiculously small. Second, I simply smile in delight being in the magnificent presence of a creature possessing such power that carries itself with such elegance. It’s a child’s reaction – and one I highly recommend having as an adult. Because as adults,
we need resilience and passion to live in a world where objects of wonder like giraffe are also targets of violence – from an AK-47 to a neck snare or simply land that no longer welcomes these wandering giants. So look at the giraffe again. Stare into those eyes. We must do better for them. One couple dedicated their lives to that mission.
How does it feel to get knocked down by a wild giraffe? What’s it like to take gunfire flying in a helicopter? Questions like these and many more have become common knowledge for Dr. Julian and Steph Fennessy. Julian came from Australia and Steph from Germany. Like many, Africa drew them in and Julian specifically chose to do his PhD on giraffe when he realized so little was scientifically known about them as compared to other iconic species like elephants or lions. It was a strange journey to be on the cusp of just beginning to understand one of the most recognizable and beloved creatures on the planet.
Like the rest of the world, when I stood in a blind in northern Namibia taking photos of a giraffe at a waterhole, I had only
general knowledge of the species and the risks they face. Not long after that, the Fennessys co-founded the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in 2009 in Namibia as the world’s only charitable organization concentrating solely on the conservation of wild giraffe. Their research and publications have brought us out of collective ignorance. In just the last 30 years, Africa’s giraffe population has plummeted by 40%. Observing them on our African safaris now, appreciation also includes urgency to make sure there are future generations of giraffes to still tower over the plains.
GCF’s efforts span Africa to make that a reality – from participating in creating national action plans to translocating
individuals to create assurance populations. Research and data remains critical to wise conservation action and the Fennessy’s work collecting tissue samples is answering the fundamental question of how many species and subspecies of giraffe are there. This is the foundation for how populations can be managed. Their work also led to a change in their threatened status from that of Least Concern to Vulnerable to Extinction. This work was highlighted in an hour long documentary on GCF featured on BBC and PBS in 2016.
Julian and Steph Fennessy Coming to Naples
The free fall in wild populations makes it critically important for accredited zoos to have protected populations. Zoos are
also ideally suited to powerfully share the challenges facing this beloved species with millions of people and provide proven
ways for caring people to make a difference for the giraffes in both worlds. On May 9, you will have the opportunity to
help welcome this extraordinary couple to our community at a special evening conservation lecture at Naples Zoo.
Tickets are available for $10 at www.napleszoo.org/speakers. Spending time with them will be truly inspiring. I hope you’ll join me as we both see the challenges and also envision a future day where all giraffe can stand tall – allowing us to still feel as small and delighted as a child.
Far from the simple menageries of past, today’s nationally accredited zoos are centers of learning and natural crossroads
for biologists, educators, environmental scientists, and researchers – as well as for students, conservationists, and all animal
lovers. Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is a trusted, private 501(c)(3) nonprofit serving wildlife and families here and
around the world. To learn more about how you can help giraffes, email Naples Zoo’s Director of Conservation at