Our work with giraffes 16/02/2016

Walking tall in giraffe conservation

In the last 45 years the population of the endangered Rothchild’s giraffes in Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP) in Uganda has reduced by over 90%. A huge part of this decline was due to poaching in the 1990’s but since then the population has failed to grow.

Our giraffe team manager, Sarah Roffe, not only works with the giraffes here at Chester Zoo, but she also recently travelled to Uganda to help the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) conduct their first ever census of the Rothschild’s giraffe in KVNP. This field work is vital in helping conservationists understand why this particular population isn’t growing. 

Sarah tells us all about her trip:

“I’ve always loved Rothschild’s giraffes and feel very lucky to work with them on a daily basis. I was extremely excited to travel to Uganda to help with the census in KVNP and see the Rothschild giraffe in the wild. 

“There has never been a ground survey of the total giraffe population at the park before and this detailed census was organised not only give the park an official number of giraffes but to gain more information about each and every giraffe in the park.

Giraffes in Uganda

“The first thing I noticed about the park was its enormity! The park is 332,000 acres and we had just seven days to cover the whole area. To make sure we succeeded in our mission, we were joined by several giraffe experts who had gathered for the census. The group comprised of experts from institutions all over the world, including: Dartmouth College, Santa Barbara Zoo, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Leiden Conservation Foundation and of course, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

“Over the course of the week, we split into three different vehicles which traversed the park over-and-over to ensure all areas were included in the census and photographing as many unique individuals as possible – by the end of the survey, we had travelled more than 1,600km.

“Each morning we collected local Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers to help us in the field. The Park employs more than 200 rangers and their expertise proved invaluable - they were often the first ones to spot groups of giraffe in the distance. Their expert knowledge of the park enabled us to track each individual giraffe from great vantage points and allowed us to get close enough to photograph if not both sides, the left hand side as a minimum. 

“Once the giraffe was photographed we also collected other information including age, sex. One of the many things I learnt on the trip was how to use a range finder. The range finder told us how far away the giraffe was and when this measurement was paired up with the photograph taken at the same time, we were then able to estimate their actual height. 

Sarah Roffe giraffe team in Uganda Credit Julian Fennessy GCF
Sarah Roffe in Uganda. Photo credit: Julian Fennessy GCF

“By the end of the week in Kidepo Valley, we had photographed and identified 25 individual giraffes. The images we collected were compiled and run through a pattern recognition software program (Wild-ID) to accurately determine the identity of each and every one. 

The GCF, with support from Chester Zoo, is in the process of establishing a ‘citizen science’ initiative to monitor the Kidepo Valley giraffe population, long-term. The data collected will help monitor the population dynamics and determine why this small population of Rothschild’s does not appear to be growing, despite the seemingly abundant resources. 

“This project is in its early stages of development and it’s exciting to think that Chester Zoo are directly supporting Rothschild’s giraffe conservation and there may be other opportunities for keepers to work out in the field. 

“Whilst the Rothchild’s giraffe population in Kidepo Valley National Park currently stands at 25 individuals, it is still unsure whether this population will be able to survive looking to the future. 

“The time I spent in Kidepo was unforgettable and it was great to be part of GCF’s and the Zoo’s work helping to conserve Uganda’s Rothschild’s giraffe in such a beautiful natural environment.” 

The next stage of this project is planned for later this year and aims to monitor the giraffe’s movements around the park. This information will be used to develop a conservation strategy for giraffe in Uganda and gain a better understanding of the Rothschild’s giraffe in general. 

To keep up to date with the work we’re doing out in the field go to our Act for Wildlife website.