East Africa Giraffe Conservation Programme
The East African region is crucial to the survival of giraffe in Africa: three of the four extant species of giraffe, which include the Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi), Nubian giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis camelopardalis) and reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata), occur in the region. While giraffe populations in some other African regions are increasing or stable, the general trend of giraffe populations across East (and Central) Africa is decreasing. In the last 15 years, reticulated giraffe have declined by ~80% while Masai giraffe numbers have reduced by >50%. Since 2016, giraffe are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but the Rothschild’s giraffe, now subsumed into the Nubian giraffe, which occurs in Uganda, western and central Kenya, south-western Ethiopia, and South Sudan, are listed as ‘Endangered’. Human activities, in particular habitat loss, fragmentation and poaching represent the most severe threats to the survival of giraffe in the region.
Unfortunately, relatively little conservation research has been conducted on giraffe, and this lack of knowledge is hindering the assessment of the exact conservation status of giraffe. GCF is working with local and international partners to collate available data, fill data gaps and most importantly to advance giraffe conservation initiatives in the region. Find out more about GCF’s East Africa Programme below.
National giraffe conservation strategy development
Giraffe species are largely understudied and have long been ignored by the scientific and conservation community. Currently, Niger is the only country in Africa that has finalised and implemented a National Giraffe Conservation Strategy, bringing together stakeholders to develop and pursue coordinated actions that will ensure a sustainable future for giraffe populations. Developing a National Strategy and Action Plan is key to ensuring limited resources are used efficiently to save giraffe, and increase conservation and management support.
Kenya is the second country that has developed a National Strategy, which will soon be commissioned by the Kenya Wildlife Services. Uganda, home to the largest naturally occurring population of Nubian giraffe, has recently started the process of developing a National Strategy to guide its conservation efforts, assess threats, identify key ecological requirements and establish long-term monitoring, all critical to conserve and manage this precious species. The next step is to assess if Tanzania is interested in developing a National Strategy.
In order to best assess the conservation status of giraffe in East Africa, GCF works with partners throughout the region to collate historical and current data on all giraffe species. Through these long-term monitoring efforts, GCF and partners are generating crucial data for future conservation management of giraffe, including providing population numbers, trends and, distributions; updating translocation histories, protocols, and recommendations; establishing individual identification giraffe databases; monitoring population health status; and providing conservation management recommendations. GCF is working with partners to develop a standardised survey protocol for all three species, which will be implemented with all stakeholders. Giraffe populations in Uganda, western Kenya, central Rift Valley conservation area, northern Kenya, southern Kenya (Tsavo-Amboseli Landscape), and Ethiopia are now monitored by GCF partners. These measures and data collection allow all stakeholders to make pro-active decisions to sustain giraffe populations in East Africa and in the long-term, inform future reassessments of giraffe on the IUCN Red List.
Giraffe Skin Disease
While giraffe populations are undoubtedly at risk due to anthropogenic factors, they have also been affected by a variety of diseases. However, there is very limited research that examines the extent to which diseases have affected the conservation status of giraffe. One prime example is the emergence of giraffe skin disease, which was first described in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park in the early 1990s. The generic name of the disease (Giraffe Skin Disease – GSD) illustrates just how little we actually know of its effects. GSD manifests as chronic and severe scabs, wrinkled skin, encrustations and dry or oozing blood that can afflict either the limbs or the upper regions of giraffe sometimes causing the giraffe discomfort. It has been suggested that severe GSD can lead to lower leg lameness making adult giraffe particularly vulnerable to lion predation. However, little is known about GSD and detailed analyses of the effect of this disease on giraffe survival and reproduction have not been assessed. Preliminary studies show that East Africa could be a hotspot for GSD and GCF is working with partners in the region to collect tissue samples of affected giraffe in an attempt to identify the causative agent(s) and potential cures of this disease, and make critical recommendations on treatment and management. Similar skin diseases have been observed in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Angola, South Africa, and Namibia.