Koure: A crisp African dawn is breaking overhead, and Zibo Mounkaila is on the back of a pickup truck bounding across a sparse landscape of rocky orange soil.
The tallest animals on earth are here, the guide says, somewhere amid the scant green bush on one side, and the thatched dome villages on the other.
They're here, but by all accounts, they shouldn't be.
A hundred years ago, West Africa's last giraffes numbered in the thousands and their habitat stretched from Senegal's Atlantic Ocean coast to Chad, in the heart of the continent. By the dawn of the 21st century, their world had shrunk to a tiny zone southeast of the capital, Niamey, stretching barely 150 miles (240 kilometers) long.
Their numbers dwindled so low that in 1996, they numbered a mere 50.
Instead of disappearing as many feared, though, the giraffes have bounced miraculously back from the brink of extinction, swelling to more than 200 today.
It's an unlikely boon experts credit to a combination of concerned conservationists, a government keen for revenue, and a rare harmony with villagers who have accepted their presence — for now.
First Published: Sunday, November 08, 2009, 22:11