Conserving Africa’s largest Masai Giraffe population
Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi) are East Africa’s most abundant giraffe species, however, their numbers have declined by >50% in the last 30 years. Direct and indirect human activities through habitat loss and fragmentation due to increasing pressure on land for agricultural and pastoral use, poaching for bushmeat and traditional medicine, and prolonged droughts are undoubtedly the most severe threats to Masai giraffe survival. In addition to the support GCF provides to Masai giraffe in Kenya’s southern rangelands, GCF recently increased conservation efforts in Tanzania, where the Masai giraffe is the national animal, by partnering with government and private stakeholders. With ~23,000 Masai giraffe remaining in the wild, Tanzania supports the largest giraffe population of any African country and is as such crucial to their survival.
Relatively limited conservation efforts have been conducted on Masai giraffe in the East African region. For this reason, GCF with support from conservation partners, spearheaded the development of the first-ever Tanzania Country Profile on the conservation status of giraffe. The Country Profile highlights historical, recent and current data on giraffe population numbers, their distribution and threats to help better inform management and conservation policies. GCF has worked in partnership with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) to collate these data at the national technical workshop of government and academic stakeholders. This initiative has also set the foundation for the development of the first-ever Tanzania National Giraffe Conservation Strategy and Action Plan, which is planned for 2018. This exciting progress will raise awareness for the plight of Masai giraffe both locally and internationally as Tanzania will be the third East African country to draft a National Strategy and Action Plan for giraffe conservation – all with the financial and technical support of GCF.
By partnering with local Tanzanian and international conservation stakeholders, GCF will actively support the mitigation of threats in Tanzania. Tanzania is a hotspot for Giraffe Skin Disease (GSD) which can afflict either the limbs or the upper regions of giraffe sometimes causing discomfort. GSD has almost ubiquitous distribution in Tanzania and it has been suggested that severe lesions can lead to lameness making adult giraffe particularly vulnerable to lion predation. GCF will continue to support targeted efforts in Tanzania that examine the etiology and pathology of GSD and where possible, identify potential cures of the disease. These studies will also assess the zoonotic threat of GSD given the increasing encroachment of livestock in giraffe habitats.
While Masai giraffe are the national animal of Tanzania and hunting is prohibited by law, they are still poached for bushmeat and traditional medicine, where giraffe bone marrow and brains are incorrectly believed to cure HIV/AIDS. We have limited knowledge on the socio-economic and cultural importance of giraffe, therefore with support from local conservation partners in Tanzania, GCF will conduct human dimension surveys in a bid to identify and map trouble areas for giraffe so that anti-poaching efforts can be targeted and socio-economic and culture values documented.
Tanzania also presents an excellent opportunity to study the spatial ecology of Masai giraffe, especially as they are widespread across the northern and central areas, and transboundary into southern Kenya. By better understanding preferred core habitat of giraffe, access to seasonal browsing areas, extent of giraffe home range and habitat connectivity, we hope to identify wildlife corridors, poaching hotspots and generate valuable information for protected area and wildlife conservancies planning.
All GCF’s conservation efforts will be geared towards supporting the implementation of the future National Giraffe Conservation Strategy and Action Plans in Tanzania. GCF is committed towards securing the future of Masai giraffe in Tanzania and the East African Region.