21 Jun 2018

Working together with a team from the international zoo community, Sarah Roffe, Chester Zoo’s Giraffe Team Manager, and Hannah Taylor, Individual Giving Specialist, joined the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to help further our understanding of Nubian giraffe to inform conservation strategy.

Nubian giraffes are amongst the most threatened of giraffe subspecies, with less than 2,000 individuals estimated to remain in Uganda. We’ve been providing financial and technical support to the annual survey of Nubian giraffe carried out by GCF and UWA in Kidepo since 2015.

Chester Zoo’s Individual Giving Specialist, Hannah Taylor

The team completed a three-day survey as part of an annual population census and spent two days fitting five individual giraffes with GPS collars. The challenges were immediately apparent to Hannah who says:

“It was incredibly exciting to head out on the search for the giraffe, but these large animals aren’t as easy to spot as you may think! I really appreciated the skills of Dr Julian Fennessy from GCF. He showed us how to pick out the shapes of the giraffe from amongst the trees in the distance.

Chester Zoo’s Giraffe Team Leader, Sarah Roffe, with Dr. Julian Fennessy (GCF)

“We worked together to look out for the animals, take photos to add to the database, check the individual markings against the identification book and record the sighting. A highlight was spotting ‘Chester’ the giraffe and I felt really proud that we are partnering GCF and UWA and their amazing teams”

There were once more than 400 Nubian giraffe in Kidepo, but during the brutal dictatorship of the 1970s, the population crashed to just three individuals. Thanks to the dedicated protection efforts of UWA, that number has climbed to 36 individuals. However, the species remains vulnerable to extinction due to the loss and degradation of their preferred habitat, as well as disease and illegal hunting.

To help gain in-depth knowledge of their movements and habitat use, Hannah was part of the biggest exercise of its kind to fit giraffe with new solar-powered, lightweight GPS trackers. The tagging was led by the UWA vets and the trackers were fitted to the giraffe’s ossicones, while the data team and vets took measurements, genetics and blood samples, and conducted health checks.

Stuart Nixon, Chester Zoo’s Field Programmes Coordinator for Africa adds:

“It is finally being recognised around the world just how threatened all wild giraffe populations are – something which has been overlooked for many years!

This is the fourth annual survey that we have supported and assisted with in Kidepo National Park, and it’s amazing to see the numbers of giraffe steadily growing with each survey. It shows clearly what can be achieved with dedicated effort but there is still a lot more to do before this population can be considered safe, especially while the population remains so small.

Over the next few years we plan to continue to work with GCF and UWA in Kidepo helping them put in place important actions from Uganda’s first national Conservation Strategy for Giraffe which we helped to develop in 2017. It’s only by working together and sticking at it that we can ensure the survival of this incredible species for future generations”

If you’re visiting the zoo on World Giraffe Day, then look out for our GCF giraffe print coffees, available in our food outlets!