Populations of giraffe, one of the most charismatic species on Earth, have dwindled precipitously over the past few decades. Now considered Vulnerable to Extinction by the IUCN, there are estimated to be <100,000 giraffe remaining.
The causes of population declines are multi-fold, with habitat loss and fragmentation, disease, competition with livestock, and local bush meat trade all being major factors; however, all are likely linked to human population growth. Conserving giraffe, as with any wildlife species in Africa, is complex and requires both scientific understanding and action from multiple stakeholders.
In May 2018, 35 experts working directly on giraffe or in thematic areas relevant to conservation-based decision-making from NGOs, academia, and African governments came together to develop a unifying Africa-wide Giraffe Conservation Science Management Framework. During this first-ever Giraffe Conservation Science Symposium, the group identified key gaps for further assessment as well as opportunities for developing partnerships and working collaboratively across Africa to help save giraffe before it is too late.
Four key thematic areas were identified to cover the most burning questions that must be better understood to secure a future for all giraffe populations in Africa:
- Taxonomy. Main questions: How many different giraffe are there? What genetic tools can we use to better understand giraffe? What other tools exist to understand why they do not interbreed
- Ecology. Main questions: How many giraffe are there really in Africa and where do they live? How do they use their habitat? What key habitats and forage is needed to conserve them?
- Health. Main questions: What is causing the emerging skin disease, and what impact does disease have on their survival? What can we learn in the wild to better look after captive giraffe and vice versa? What other key giraffe medicine questions do we need to understand?
- Human dimensions. Main questions: How are giraffe perceived in Africa by Africans? Is giraffe trade a threat to giraffe?
In the spirit of collaboration, the Symposium was hosted jointly by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) at the SCBI campus in Front Royal, Virginia, USA. This initiative is a work-in-progress, and we hope that more experts, organisations, governments, and institutions will join us to find sustainable solutions for giraffe conservation in Africa.
Giraffe Conservation Science Symposium Participating Organisations:
- African Wildlife Foundation
- Brown University
- Center for Conservation Peacebuilding
- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
- Dartmouth College
- Giraffe Conservation Foundation
- Kenya Wildlife Service
- Sahara Conservation Fund
- San Diego Zoo Global
- Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
- Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
- Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute
- Utah State University