By Monica L. Bond, Principal Scientist, Wild Nature Institute
We all hear of poaching elephants for ivory and rhinoceros for horn, but did you know that giraffes have also experienced a massive decline in the wild? Giraffe populations across Africa have plummeted in the last few decades by nearly 40 percent, to the point where they now number only 98,000, far fewer than African elephants. The IUCN Red List of globally threatened species was recently updated by the world’s giraffe experts who re-categorized giraffes from ‘least concern’ to ‘vulnerable to extinction’. The main causes of giraffe population declines are habitat loss and illegal killing for bushmeat markets, resulting in giraffes now restricted mostly to lands in and around national parks.
One of Africa’s largest giraffe research and conservation programs is run by Dr. Derek Lee of the Wild Nature Institute, with long-term support from the Sacramento Zoo. The Wild Nature Institute’s goal is to assist wildlife agencies to locate, protect, and connect areas important for giraffes, so healthy populations can continue to thrive. Using the unique spot patterns every giraffe is born with, the Wild Nature Institute is studying births, deaths, and movements of more than 2,100 individually identified Masai giraffes in the Tarangire ecosystem in Tanzania. With this information, the Wild Nature Institute is discovering why some areas support high giraffe survival and reproduction while other areas do not. This information is then used to inform land-use planning, anti-poaching efforts, and other effective conservation measures. Wild Nature Institute is also engaging and linking African and North American communities with giraffe-themed children’s books and other environmental education materials to build conservation awareness and action.