Tracking initiative launched as rare giraffes' population declines

Ng'wesi Conservancy hosts the endangered reticulated giraffes. [Jacinta Mutura, Standard]
Rare reticulated giraffes are being tracked in their habitats in arid Northern Kenya following the inclusion of the species in the Red List of endangered animals.

The initiative, dubbed ‘Twiga Walinzi (Giraffe guards), aims to track 250 giraffes across Africa to understand their movement corridors and preferred habitats, which will provide information for effective future conservation efforts.

Collecting data

The project’s coordinator in Kenya, Symon Masiaine, said trained community members are collecting data on the giraffes using motion sensor camera traps to develop a photo identification database for proactive conservation efforts.

“The team takes pictures of the right side to help in identifying individual giraffe .... The geo-located image will help in tracking their movements,” said Masiaine.

He said a right-side image clearly shows the body and neck pattern. The images are then uploaded into a giraffe spotter software that identifies each animal’s identity.

The aerial survey co-ordinated by a research team from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), San Diego Zoo Global, Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), Loisaba Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute seeks to ‘collar’ 250 reticulated giraffes in Africa by the end of 2020, and mainly in Kenya where there is a higher population.

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On September 28, some giraffes were ‘collared’ across northern Kenya, five of which were at Loisaba Conservancy.

“We are also accompanied by a team of veterinarians who attend to injured wildlife,” said Mr Masiaine.

Arthur Muneza, the East Africa co-ordinator for GCF, said other important biodata to be collected includes physical measurements, and genetic and blood samples.

The tracking exercise follows one done in 2017, when 11 giraffes were fitted with special solar-powered GPS tracking devices.

Reticulated giraffes are predominantly found in Northern Kenya, Western Somalia and Southern Ethiopia, with the higher population being in the rangelands of Northern Kenya.

In Kenya, the giraffes are mainly found in Laikipia, Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit, Wajir and Meru counties.

Within the rangelands, reticulated giraffes often compete directly with humans and livestock, and only 4 per cent of their distribution is estimated to occur within formally protected areas in conservancies and parks.

Conducting surveys

In Laikipia, the project is being carried out in in Loisaba and Namunyak conservancies, where the research team is also conducting surveys of community members on their attitudes toward giraffes and poaching. Giraffes are hunted for their meat, hair, skin and ligament.

The Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism introduced a four-year Recovery and Action Plan for Giraffes in Kenya in 2018.

The plan, which covers the period to 2022, focuses on three rare sub-species of giraffes (Maasai, Rothschild’s and reticulated).

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala noted that the negative impact on giraffes’ population is occasioned by habitat loss, climate change and bush meat trade.

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Red ListTwiga WalinziSymon MasiaineKWS