The East African region is crucial to the survival of giraffe in Africa.

Three of the four extant species of giraffe occur in the region: Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi), Nubian giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis camelopardalis) and Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata).

While giraffe populations in some other African regions are stable or even increasing, giraffe numbers are decreasing across East and Central Africa. In the last 30 years, both Masai and Reticulated giraffe populations have declined by over 50%. Most recently, the Reticulated giraffe was added to the IUCN Red List as Endangered, while Masai giraffe are still being assessed but likely to face a similar fate in 2019. The Nubian giraffe, which includes the former Rothschild’s giraffe and occurs in Uganda, western and central Kenya, south-western Ethiopia, and South Sudan, is now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Human activities, in particular habitat loss, fragmentation and poaching represent the most severe threats to the survival of giraffe in East Africa.

With this in mind, GCF has developed a focused programme for giraffe conservation in East Africa with a dedicated team based in Nairobi, Kenya. Additional support is provided from other GCF staff in Africa. GCF continues to work with local and international partners to collate new data, fill gaps and most importantly, to advance giraffe conservation initiatives in the region.

National Giraffe Conservation Strategy Development

Giraffe are largely understudied and have long been ignored by the scientific and conservation community. Currently, Kenya and Niger are the only countries in Africa that have finalised, endorsed and embarked on implementing a National Giraffe Conservation Strategy and Action Plan. These plans were developed by bringing together a range of stakeholders to develop and pursue coordinated actions to secure a sustainable future for giraffe in the country. Developing a National Strategy and Action Plan is key to ensuring that limited resources are used efficiently to save giraffe, by increasing conservation and management support.

Uganda, home to the largest naturally occurring population of Nubian giraffe, led by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, drafted its National Strategy and Action Plan to guide its conservation efforts, assess threats, identify key ecological requirements and establish long-term monitoring. GCF provided valuable technical and financial support to its development. The document is awaiting final endorsement.

Similarly, GCF provided technical and financial support to the development of draft National strategies and Action Plans in Tanzania (led by the Tanzania Wildlife Authority) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, led by African Parks Network). Both documents are awaiting final endorsement from the respective governments.

While developing such plans is a great first step, it is important that appropriate resources are allocated to their implementation and monitoring to ensure their value for giraffe conservation. GCF continues to work with African governments to develop such strategies and action plans and establish National or Species Working Groups to ensure continued giraffe conservation actions guided by stakeholders.

Population surveys

In order to 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. These activities includes, but is not limited to collecting population numbers, trends and distributions; updating translocation histories, developing protocols, and providing recommendations; establishing individual identification giraffe databases; monitoring population health status; and providing conservation management recommendations.

GCF currently works with partners and stakeholders to develop a standardised survey protocol for all three species. Giraffe populations in DRC, Uganda, western Kenya, central Rift Valley conservation area, northern Kenya, southern Kenya (Tsavo-Amboseli Landscape), and various areas in Tanzania are now monitored by GCF and partners, allowing all stakeholders to make pro-active decisions to sustain giraffe populations in East Africa and inform future reassessments of giraffe for the IUCN Red List.

Giraffe Skin Disease

While giraffe populations are at risk due to anthropogenic factors, they can also be affected by a variety of diseases. 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 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 also been reported in Botswana, Chad, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. As a result, GCF continues to increase the geographical range of GSD research.

This programme is supported by: