Saving Uganda’s Threatened Nubian Giraffe

Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis) is one of the most endangered subspecies of giraffe. In 2010, the estimate for the former Rothschild’s giraffe, which is now subsumed into Nubian giraffe, was less than 670 individuals remaining in the wild. Only 250 lived in their native range in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Consequently, the former Rothschild’s giraffe (G. c. rothschildi) was listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List in 2010 based on initial research undertaken by GCF. Ongoing conservation and research efforts by GCF in collaboration with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Dartmouth College indicate that there are more Nubian giraffe in Uganda than initially thought. While Uganda certainly hosts the largest Nubian giraffe population in the wild, with a current estimate of less than 2,100, their number is still precariously low and ongoing monitoring is required to confirm these latest numbers.

GCF and UWA’s collaborative effort to conserve giraffe in Uganda is guided by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed by both parties in 2014 to formalise this important partnership. Once free ranging across western Kenya, western Ethiopia, southern South Sudan and Uganda, the Nubian giraffe has been largely eliminated from much of its former range. Despite the low and steadily declining figures across all Nubian giraffe populations, there has never been any scientific study of the Nubian giraffe in Uganda and in its natural range. This is even more surprising as this subspecies is widely represented in captivity internationally (often still under its former name of Rothschild’s giraffe). In Kenya, all known wild populations of Nubian giraffe have been extirpated by agricultural development with remnant populations now confined to national parks, private reserves and other protected areas where they introduced for conservation purposes. These remaining populations are isolated from one another and hence interbreeding is not possible.

The vulnerability of the Nubian giraffe is highlighted by recent phylogenetic studies by GCF and partners, which have shown that they are a subspecies of the unique northern giraffe. The Nubian giraffe therefore represents a unique genetic lineage that should be afforded the highest priority for conservation of giraffe biodiversity, in particular the largest natural and viable population in Murchison Falls National Park.

GCF’s giraffe conservation efforts in Uganda are a priority, currently focusing on all three national parks that host giraffe: Murchison Falls, Kidepo Valley and Lake Mburo National Parks.

Murchison Falls National Park

With a recent estimate of 1,250 giraffe, Murchison Falls National Park hosts by far the largest population of giraffe and is therefore at the centre of our Uganda programme. GCF has been implementing a long-term study on giraffe numbers, their distribution and ecology in close collaboration with UWA and Dartmouth College since mid-2013.

With recent discovery of oil in the Park and only separated by the Democratic Republic of Congo by the mighty River Nile, poaching (mainly snaring) continues. GCF is working closely with UWA to curb these trends through ongoing monitoring and help affected animals.

ferry_otOperation Twiga

In order to secure a sustainable future for giraffe in the Park, GCF has dedicated World Giraffe Day – 21 June 2015 to Operation Twiga – a critical conservation translocation of giraffe to increase their range within Uganda. The main translocation into new areas of Murchison Falls National Park on the southern bank of the River Nile was implemented in January 2016, where 18 giraffe were successfully moved over the river, and continue to be monitored using equipment raised through World Giraffe Day 2015. To find out more about Operation Twiga, download a detailed report here: Operation Twiga Report, January 2016

Kidepo Valley National Park

In addition to our work in Murchison Falls National Park, GCF has undertaken the first-ever and subsequent annual giraffe census in Kidepo Valley National Park. With a current estimate of a minimum of less than 40 Nubian giraffe further research is needed to determine if this is a viable population. Illegal hunting (poaching) was a major issue in Kidepo Valley National Park in the past due to civil unrest in neighbouring South Sudan. In the 1990s the giraffe population in Kidepo Valley National Park was reduced to only three individuals. Whilst poaching has stopped, giraffe are still under threat by habitat loss and fragmentation, and disease. All these threats can ultimately be linked to human population growth. Our conservation efforts in the Park continue to be undertaken in partnership with UWA.

Lake Mburo National Park

It is assumed that a combination of illegal hunting (poaching) and disease caused giraffe to disappear from Lake Mburo National Park up to
100 years ago. Re-introducing giraffe back into the landscape for ecological and ecotourism reasons has been discussed by UWA for a long time. In July 2015, 15 giraffe were moved from Murchison Falls National Park south into Lake Mburo National Park – an exciting and bold venture by UWA to expand the range of this endangered giraffe. Whilst poaching is minimal around the Park, the giraffe’s new home will be under pressure from expanding human populations around the Park and increasing demand for land. The giraffe population is still small and needs all our support to help it grow in order to play a valuable role in this landscape once again. GCF is supporting UWA in technical advice and support in monitoring these giraffe.

Citizen Science Programme

Furthermore, we have developed a citizen science programme for both Kidepo Valley and Lake Mburo National Parks to encourage guides, tourists and UWA staff to take photos of giraffe and upload them to GiraffeSpotter.org to help with monitoring these populations. Flyers with more information can be downloaded from the sidebar.

This programme is supported by: