03 November 2015

As we mentioned in our World Giraffe Day blog, Chester Zoo staff members Stuart Nixon (field programmes coordinator) and Sarah Roffe (team manager for giraffe and okapi) were due to visit the remote Kidepo Valley National Park, in Uganda. Here’s an update from that trip

Sarah and Stuart’s trip saw them take part in a survey of the National Parks’ little known Rothschild’s giraffe population; which was led by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Dartmouth College, US.

The small team spent a week driving and hiking around Kidepo, searching for the surprisingly elusive giraffe herds. Once located the team needed to get as close as possible to take pictures of each giraffe’s unique skin pattern. Using new software developed by Dartmouth College these images will be used to estimate the total number of individuals in the population.

Sarah scanning for giraffe in Kidepo. Photo credit Julian Fennessy, Giraffe Conservation Foundation
Sarah scanning for giraffe in Kidepo. Photo credit Julian Fennessy, Giraffe Conservation Foundation

The next phase of the work planned for 2016 aims to monitor the giraffe’s movements around the park and examine the genetic structure of the population and its relatedness to Rothschild’s giraffes in other sites. This information will be used to develop a conservation strategy for giraffe in Uganda and gain a better understanding of Rothschild’s giraffe biology in general.

The Rothchild’s giraffe it the largest and one of the rarest of all giraffe subspecies and is found only in a handful of sites in Uganda and Kenya. Current estimates of population size are less than 2500, with numbers declining and is currently classed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Part of the elusive Kidepo herd
Part of the elusive Kidepo herd

In August both Stuart and Sarah also attended the Giraffe “Indaba III” conference in South Africa, which was jointly hosted by GCF and the IUCN Species Survival Commission Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group (GOSG).

The Indaba (which is Swahili for meeting) gathered a diverse group of giraffe and okapi conservationists, researchers and zoo keepers from around the world to share the most up to date information on these species as possible.

As a member of the GOSG Stuart was there to talk to the group about the conservation status of the okapi in the Maiko National Park, DR Congo and provide input towards the first ever IUCN conservation action plan for the okapi. Also, included in the discussions at the event were exciting plans to develop the first ever, and much needed, range-wide conservation strategy and action plan for all giraffe.

With successful breeding programmes for both Rothschild’s giraffes and okapi at the zoo, support of GCF and involvement in the IUCN GOSG, Chester Zoo is already actively contributing to giraffid (family classification for okapi and giraffe) conservation both in the zoo and the wild.

Following the Kidepo expedition and meeting in South Africa, we are excited to be planning further work with GCF and UWA in Uganda and becoming increasingly involved with okapi conservation research. Watch this space for more updates on our work with GCF, IUCN and these incredible giraffid species!