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By Hannah Campbell

World Giraffe Day is celebrated annually on June 21st in order to raise support and create awareness of the challenges giraffes face in the wild.

The population of reticulated giraffe, one of the most iconic mammals on the planet, has declined by over 50% over the past 30 years – from 36,000 to just around 15,000 today. Poaching, loss of habitat, and land degradation are all pushing the giraffe toward an ominously named “silent extinction.”

A reticulated giraffe at Loisaba. Photo © Ami Vitali.

In 2016, San Diego Zoo Global launched a collaborative community-lead conservation effort in northern Kenya to help save the reticulated giraffe species from extinction. Work is currently focused at two sites: Loisaba Conservancy and Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, where giraffe conservation research and community engagement programmes are conducted by Twiga Walinzi (which means giraffe guards in Swahili). The Twiga Walinzi all come from the local community, and conduct all the field research to study giraffe.

We asked Symon Masiaine, the Twiga Walinzi Conservation Coordinator, to tell us more:

Symon Masiaine, Twiga Walinzi conservation Coordinator. © Ami Vitali.

 

What are the main challenges reticulated giraffes face in northern Kenya?

“One of the main challenges here in Kenya is loss of suitable habitat due to clearing of land for agriculture, tree cutting for firewood and building, and infrastructure development. In addition, giraffe are still poached for meat, bones (which are burnt and the ashes used as medicine) and their tails (used as fly swats and the hairs for bracelets). ”

 

What data are the Twiga Walinzi collecting?

“The Twiga Walinzi carry out photo monitoring, camera trap placement, giraffe satellite collaring, human dimension surveys, school education visits and community awareness and engagement.

“Photo monitoring is carried out in order to gather systematic geo-located images of giraffe that can assist us in identifying, counting and tracking giraffe movements. Placement of camera traps across our study types also contributes to this, with over 1 million images captured so far.

Camera trap photo. © SDZG.

“In order to explore the movements of giraffes further, solar-powered GPS tracking devices have been fitted to reticulated giraffes in the study area. This has given us insights into giraffe movements in the region and utilization of different areas and habitats, what factors cause giraffe to move and whether giraffes move over long distances or stay localised (read more here).

“The team also spends time with local community members and school children in order to understand more about their relationships and interactions with giraffes and other wildlife species, as well as to spread knowledge of important conservation topics and learn about the work of the Twiga Walinzi. Perceptions are documented with surveys in order to help us understand and assess any changes in attitudes and beliefs in the communities who share their space with giraffes over time.

Lexson Larpei (Twiga Walinzi) teaching local school children about giraffes.

 

Why are the Twiga Walinzi Important?

“The Twiga Walinzi are a team of 17 researchers who are leading the work on the ground with pastoralists and communities to spread awareness about giraffes and build support for the protection of the tallest animal on earth. It is scientifically proven that 95% of the 15,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild live outside formal protected areas – largely on pastoral land. The Twiga Walinzi is important as it focuses work outside of protected areas where people live side by side with giraffes.”

Reticulated giraffes at Loisaba. Photo © Taro Croze.

 

How do you identify individuals?

“Giraffe are recognised using spot patterns on their skin. No two giraffes have the exact same spot pattern, just like no one else has your fingerprints. At Twiga Walinzi, we started identifying giraffe using the pattern manually with our eyes, but in 2019 a pattern recognition software was launched called GiraffeSpotter. The software uses advanced coat pattern recognition technology to recognise individual giraffes and creates a database of sightings. This innovative technology allows researchers, as well as citizen scientists, to monitor giraffe populations throughout Africa and track individual movements.”

Camera trap photo. © SDZG.

 

Tell us about your best experience in the field.

“It was a one of the community survey days in Koija group ranch, going from one village to the next to gather information about giraffes. We met with one mama who identified us by name and said hello to both me and Lexson (another Twiga Walinzi). She gave us seats and started preparing tea for us, and started talking about the great job we as a project are doing in the community. She explained how valuable it was that we hold regular meetings with the communities to update everyone on the project, and how she loved that we took the time to educate school students about the conservation of giraffe and other wildlife in the community. She went on to tell us that her son (year 6) teaches them about the species of giraffe that are found in Kenya, their adaptations to the environment and the food web in the African savanna. She asked us to continue to educate the children and the community about conservation because wildlife and pastoralists need to live side by side, and thanked us for the work we are doing. I was so thrilled by the story and I saw that we are making an impact in the community through the community engagement meetings and school clubs visits.”

 

What are the Twiga Walinzi doing for world giraffe day?

“We are spreading the following message to community members and students in northern Kenya:

  1. Be the voice for giraffe in the communities.
  2. Say no to giraffe poaching in your communities.
  3. Say no to giraffe trade and trafficking.
  4. Share the knowledge you learn to your friends, family members and community.
  5. Stand tall for the giraffe!

Happy World Giraffe Day 2020!

By Hannah Campbell

The population of reticulated giraffe, one of the most iconic mammals on the planet, has declined by over 50% over the past 30 years – from 36,000 to just around 15,000 today. Poaching, loss of habitat, and land degradation are all pushing the giraffe toward an ominously named “silent extinction.”

To effectively help protect the reticulated giraffe, researchers must first understand how these towers of the savanna use their habitat. Over 100 motion-activated cameras have been installed both here at Loisaba Conservancy and at Namunyak Community Conservancy to the North East. A local team of Twiga Walinzi (which means Giraffe Guards in Swahili) is conducting field research to study and identify individual giraffes, while monitoring field cameras, engaging with local communities, and removing poachers’ snares from the conservancy sites.

During the course of a year, over 1,000,000 images are captured by these cameras! Although placed to monitor giraffes, they also photograph many different species, from warthogs to lions!

This means millions of photos need sorting through to classify what each shot has captured, which is where you can help! An online citizen science project called Wildwatch Kenya was set up to allow anyone from around the world to review and help classify the images.

Once these images are classified, and along with data from collared giraffes, researchers can identify specific areas that are favoured by giraffes and start to look into why they prefer certain habitats. This information is critical in order to provide better protection to those areas, as well providing insight on where to focus any community outreach to help reduce poaching where people may be living closer to giraffes. “The faster we can sort through these images, the faster we understand what is needing to protect reticulated giraffe in these areas” – Jenna Stacy-Dawes, San Diego Zoo Global.

Click here if you would like to help classify some of the camera trap images from the field!

Conservation and Wildlife Security

In partnership with The Peregrine Fund and Lion Landscapes, Loisaba hosted a Community Coexistence Training course at Loisaba for members of the surrounding communities. The training is designed to teach communities about the dangers and negative effects of poisoning to humans and their livestock, whilst providing individuals with the skills and knowledge to better protect their livestock and to therefore reduce retaliation killing of carnivores.

36 people from Koija, Kirimon and Il Motiok received the training. These communities were targeted as they experience high levels of human-carnivore conflict due to living adjacent to wildlife conservancies and ranches.

The training is part of the Coexistence Co-op, which is a partnership between Lion Landscapes and The Peregrine Find to reduce livestock lost to large carnivores, and stop the resultant use of highly toxic pesticides to kill ‘problem’ carnivores, and that indiscriminately poison critically endangered vultures.

Photos of the Month

Most liked Instagram photo:

Elephant © Hannah Campbell

Most liked Facebook photo:

Reticulated Giraffe © Peter Ekidor

 

Best Caption:

@gabriellafrancesca94: ‘I told you to stop and ask for directions Hank, now we’re going to be late!’

If you have any photos from your stay at Loisaba that you would like featuring on our social media, please email them stating how you would like it to be credited to Hannah at communications@loisaba.com!

 

 

Recently discovered to be a unique species rather than a subspecies, reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata) populations have declined drastically in just the past 30 years, from around 100,000 individuals in the 1980s to just around 15,000 individuals today. As a result of this alarming decline, in November 2018 they were listed as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List.

Historically, reticulated giraffe ranged throughout much of northern Kenya, into western Somalia, and into southern Ethiopia; however, their range is rapidly decreasing and while one or two fragment populations may persist in Ethiopia, the vast majority of their population occurs within the arid rangelands of northern Kenya. Within these rangelands, reticulated giraffe often overlap directly with humans and livestock and only 4% of their distribution is estimated to occur within formally protected areas. As a result, reticulated giraffe populations are increasingly threatened by habitat loss and degradation, climate chaos, and illegal poaching.

The Laikipia plateau, where Loisaba is situated, is a vast and breath taking landscape that provides critical habitat for reticulated giraffe, as well other threatened and endangered species. It offers an expanse of over 9,500 km2 comprised of traditional pastoral lands, cattle ranches, farmland and private conservancies. In addition, it is also believed to support critical movement corridors for giraffe; however, as of now, little is known about giraffe use of this landscape.

The “Twiga Walinzi” team monitoring reticulated giraffes at Loisaba Conservancy. © SDZG

Recent population monitoring by the “Twiga Walinzi” (Giraffe Guards) research team as well as systematic aerial surveys by Kenya Wildlife Service have been able to provide the first detailed population estimates of reticulated giraffe for the region. However, while these population estimates provide much needed information, relatively little is known about giraffe use and movement in these landscapes. Thus, further monitoring and research of these populations is vital for future conservation efforts.

San Diego Zoo Global, Giraffe Conservation Foundation and KWS safely capturing a giraffe at Loisaba Conservancy in order to attach a GPS tracking device. © SDZG

In 2017, 11 reticulated giraffes were fitted with specially solar-powered GPS tracking devices, in order to gain a better understanding of giraffe movements, habitat usage, population dynamics and numbers, and to inform conservation policy and management plans. The data from these giraffes has already been vital towards understanding movement patterns, as well as possible movement corridors and preferred areas of habitat. To continue this research, an additional 28 giraffes were successfully ‘collared’ across northern Kenya from August 27th – September 5th (five of which at Loisaba Conservancy) – the largest giraffe collaring operation in history.

A GPS tracking device being fitted to the giraffe’s ossicone. © SDZG

The project is part of the larger ‘Twiga Tracker’ Initiative that aims to collar >250 giraffe across Africa in an effort to understand their movement and spatial needs of giraffe to inform more effective future conservation efforts.

This project is a collaborative effort led by Giraffe Conservation Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, working collaboratively with Kenya Wildlife Service, Northern Rangelands Trust, and Loisaba Conservancy in addition to many in-country partners, and supported with regular on-the-ground monitoring by the Twiga Walinzi research team and the NRT ranger teams, as well as routine monitoring of the GPS satellite units year-round.

A reticulated giraffe with the GPS tracking device fitted. © Hannah Campbell

By Jenna Stacy-Dawes