IUCN headquarters in Switzerland was very pleased to be visited by Dr. Derek Lee and Monica Bond of the Wild Nature Institute and IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group on 29 June 2015. They gave a presentation to explain their cutting-edge research on giraffes in Tanzania.
Although giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) are listed globally as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, their range and overall population in Africa has been drastically declining in recent years due to habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal hunting, and disease. While some populations remain stable or are increasing, others are in a more precarious position and may be threatened. Estimates currently put the total population of giraffes at less than 80,000 animals throughout Africa.
Dr. Lee and Ms. Bond’s research is the first-ever large-scale demographic analysis (population study) of wild giraffes in a fragmented ecosystem - the Tarangire region of northern Tanzania. They are using a computer program that recognizes each animal’s unique fur pattern from photographs to monitor more than 1,800 individual giraffes throughout their lifetime. This includes collecting information on adult survival, calf survival, reproduction, movements, and population growth rates. The intent is to further understand reasons for the decline of giraffes and to use giraffes as a case study of a large tropical mammal living with high levels of natural predation and in a human-impacted landscape, which is representative of most remaining habitat in Africa.
Giraffes are an important indicator of the state of Acacia savanna woodlands in sub-Saharan Africa, but they are understudied and little is known about their ecology or demography in the wild, especially in fragmented ecosystems, which is important since most remaining habitat for giraffes outside of parks is being rapidly altered by human land use. Local communities are critical for conserving giraffe populations as they often have lifestyles that support the free-ranging nature of giraffes, such as the Masai tribe in Tanzania and Kenya. In this regard, Dr. Lee and Ms. Bond are working closely with communities to conduct research, develop management plans and undertake conservation action for giraffes. This is particularly important in terms of connecting already fragmented giraffe sites through corridors and other land management and planning systems.
Dr. Lee and Ms. Bond’s research shows already that connectivity between giraffe sites is critical for maintaining the resilience of various sub-populations. They have also found that more work needs to be done to combat illegal poaching. Further, they have established that the presence of large migratory herds of wildebeest and zebra increases giraffe calf survival which illustrates a link between the health of those migratory populations and giraffe populations. Additional research is ongoing.
For more information about Derek Lee and Monica Bond’s important research on giraffes, please contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.wildnatureinstitute.org. A special thanks to Andrea Athanas of the African Wildlife Foundation for organizing the talk at IUCN.