West African giraffe are going from strength to strength

With only 600 West African giraffe remaining in the world, we at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation is proud to be part of this giraffe conservation success story!

The last population of West African giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta), a subspecies of northern giraffe, is found only in Niger. These giraffe almost exclusively live in the Koure and North Dallol Bosso central region, approximately 60km south-east of the capital Niamey. The area is locally referred to as the ‘Giraffe Zone’ and forms an integral part of the Parc W Biosphere Reserve. In addition to the ‘Giraffe Zone’, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in support of the Government of Niger and in partnership with Sahara Conservation Fund, established the first-ever satellite population of West African giraffe in Gadabedji Biosphere Reserve in late 2018. Giraffe had gone locally extinct almost 50 years earlier in this area.

There are only an estimated 600 West African giraffe remaining in the world. However, the population has recovered from only 49 individuals in 1996, and as such this giraffe subspecies was recently down-listed to ‘Vulnerable’ from its previous listing as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN RedList. The turnaround of the West African giraffe population can be considered a true conservation success story, a testament to the concerted conservation efforts of the Government of Niger together with GCF and other local and international partners.

As part of our ongoing commitment to securing a future for West African giraffe in Niger, together with our partners, we recently fitted 16 West African giraffe with solar-powered GPS satellite units (ossi-units) to track their movements and assess their habitat use over time. This programme is supported by IUCN Save Our Species, co-funded by the European Union, along with Born Free Foundation and Wildlife Conservation Alliance.

With the help of this new technology we are learning a lot of fascinating details about the spatial dynamics of the West African giraffe. The first results show that these giraffe have rather large home ranges compared to other (sub)species in different parts of Africa. Their movements and use of habitat are most likely driven by aridity and habitat fragmentation as the West African giraffe live in the human-dominated agricultural landscape of the Sahelian zone.

The preliminary results further show that giraffe have preferred areas within the ‘Giraffe Zone’ to hang out. Additionally, we have also observed that some giraffe walk more than others – which is probably just a personal preference. One giraffe walked west close to the Nigerian border only to return the very next day – a 160km roundtrip in less than a week! Probably a curious individual looking for greener pastures.

Tracking these movements forms part of GCF’s Africa-wide giraffe tracking programme Twiga Tracker. So far over 125 ossi-units have been fitted to giraffe in seven African giraffe range states with the support of local and international partners, in particular in close collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. While remote tracking of giraffe gives us fascinating new information about these animals, it is important to also follow giraffe on the ground to monitor the population. By engaging local rangers and eco-guards we can directly contribute to increased education and awareness for giraffe in the area they live in. Educating local community members about the value of ‘their’ giraffe is an important part of our programme in Niger.

Establishing a satellite population in Gadabedji Biosphere Reserve and related outreach has enabled the community to understand the value of the giraffe as a tourism benefit, along with the social and cultural importance of bringing giraffe back to an area where they historically occurred. Long-term, we hope to secure a future for West African giraffe in Niger, where they can live save and sound for generations to come.

Photocredit: GCF, Razack Moussa & Thomas Rabeill

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