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Conservation planning for giraffes kicks off

Date Published: 13 Jul, 2010
Conservation planning for giraffes kicks off

Giraffes

To many people, giraffes may not seem to be in need of focused conservation attention. However, giraffes are facing increasing pressures that have adversely affected their numbers and distribution in Kenya and elsewhere across the continent. There are currently a total of nine sub-species of giraffes naturally occurring in Africa. Kenya is the only country with three of these sub-species present. Other countries have either one or two sub-species. Therefore, Kenya is the epi-centre for giraffe speciation. Over the past decade, giraffe numbers in Africa have suffered at least a 30 per cent drop in population as a direct result of habitat encroachment, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, severe poaching, increasing human populations and human-wildlife conflicts.

Rothschild’s giraffe

The Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) is the second most endangered giraffe sub-species with less than 670 individuals remaining in the wild. Once wide-ranging across western Kenya, Uganda, and southern Sudan, it has now been almost totally eliminated from most of its former range and now only survives in a few small, isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda.

In Kenya, all known wild populations of Rothschild’s giraffe have been extirpated by agricultural development and remnant populations are confined to National Parks, private properties and other protected areas where they have been translocated.  These remaining populations are isolated from one another and are not interbreeding.
 
Kenya is home to about 60 per cent of the global population of wild Rothschild’s giraffe with Ruma National Park in Nyanza Province having the single largest meta-population (130 individuals) in the country. Lake Nakuru National Park has 65 individuals, Soysambu Conservancy 63, Kigio Wildlife Conservancy 32, and Giraffe Manor-Karen, Mount Elgon National Park, Murgor Farm in Iten, Mwea National Reserve, Sergoit-Kruger Farm in Iten, Kitale Area Farm and Nasalot Game Reserve, all with populations of less 20 individuals.

Reticulated giraffe

Reticulated giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) are widely found in northern Kenya and in Somalia.  Data on the number and range of reticulated giraffe is limited and incomplete, with as few as 3,000 - 5,000 individuals remaining in the wild.  This estimate represents a small fraction of the 28,000 reported to have existed only a decade ago suggesting that the sub-species has recently suffered a major and rapid decline giving rise to concern about its long-term persistence. As an example, estimates for Laikipia District are consistent with a pattern of decline: 1977 - 6,398; 1990 - 5,419; 1994 - 2,118; 1997 - 2,903.
 

Masai giraffe

The Masai giraffe (Giraffa  camelopardalis  tippelskirchi ) occurs in southern Kenya i.e. Amboseli, Tsavo and the Masai Mara ecosystems and throughout Tanzania. The Masai giraffes have relatively stable populations compared to the other sub-species in Kenya although reports that their numbers have also suffered in recent years have been highlighted. Current surveys and recent estimates are being compiled for the Masai population and hopefully some more positive news will prevail.

Conservation planning for giraffes

Given Kenya’s heritage in terms of giraffe diversity and speciation, it is fitting that  the country develops a national conservation strategy dedicated to giraffes.  The National Giraffe Conservation Strategy for Kenya will provide national guidance on the conservation and management of all three sub-species across Kenya.  The guidelines will define the role of the government, conservation partners and other stakeholders whilst raising awareness about the plight of giraffe and highlight the generally declining population trends occurring within Kenya. 

Kenya Wildlife Service, the State agency in charge of wildlife, has constituted a National Giraffe Conservation Task Force (NGCTF) to steer the process of formulating the National Giraffe Conservation Strategy. The NGCTF has held two meetings to discuss the key features of the Strategy, specific challenges and risk factors facing each of the sub-species. A two-day retreat of the NGCTF is planned for July 2010 to further consolidate the background information for the sub-species and set the stage for a national stakeholder’s workshop.

The national stakeholder’s workshop is expected to take place towards the end of 2010. The workshop will develop a vision, goal and strategic objectives for the Strategy. The workshop will also provide an opportunity to update numbers and distribution of giraffes in Kenya, as well as incorporate the inputs and views of stakeholders.  Activities, indicators and timelines will also be outlined against each strategic objective. The conservation planning process is supported by funding from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW).

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