In Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, poachers are slaughtering an extremely rare subspecies of Kordofan giraffe not for their meat or hide, but for a tiny section of their tails, National Geographic reports.
Killing a majestic creature that can grow to 18 feet tall and weigh some 3,000 pounds for a single body part is depressing, and the main reason it’s happening is for cultural pre-wedding practices.
Congolese men “use that tail as a dowry to the bride’s father if they want to ask for the hand of a bride,” Leon Lamprecht, joint operations director for African Parks, told NatGeo documentary filmmaker David Hamlin.
Additionally, the long black hairs at the end of the tail are desired for good-luck bracelets, fly whisks and thread, according to the American Wildlife Foundation.
As he explains in the NatGeo video below, Hamlin was flying over Garamba National Park in June when he spotted three of the park’s critically endangered giraffes in a clearing. At the time, Garamba was home to just 40 Kordofan giraffes ― the only remaining population in the Congo.
Shortly after Hamlin’s sighting, a park ranger reportedly heard a series of gunshots. The following morning, rangers found three dead, bullet-riddled giraffes, missing nothing but the ends of their tails.
“It was awful,” Hamlin said of the experience. “Because of their size and exquisite form, they take a particularly grotesque appearance when they are lying down, contorted on the ground.”
As the national park notes on its website, Garamba is “on the front lines of the poaching crisis,” with populations of elephants and giraffes plummeting as a result. The northern white rhino, which once roamed the park, is already believed to be extinct in the wild. The last few survivors of the subspecies are being kept in captivity at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
In the video below, Hamlin shows the aftermath of the recent poaching and how conservationists and law enforcement officials are fighting to protect Garamba’s endangered species.