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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!

By Hannah Campbell

Conservation and Wildlife Security

Earlier this month, our Conservation Officer, Horris Wanyama, attended an Elephant Monitoring Training Workshop lead by Save The Elephants in order to standardise elephant identification and monitoring methods across the landscape.

Save The Elephants, who are based up in Samburu, also shared their existing database of identified elephants. This is helpful as some of the elephants that we see at Loisaba make the 100 km journey up to Sera in Samburu, and could be unnecessarily identified twice if it wasn’t for this shared database.

Horris has been working with the rest of the conservation department in order to add to the database of elephant ID’s at Loisaba, with 52 females and 44 males currently identified.

Map to show elephants known as Kimita and Sankata at Loisaba during October 2019. Map © Space for Giants

Map to show Kimita and Sankata traveling through Isiolo to Samburu from 4th – 12th November 2019. Map © Space for Giants

Map to show Kimita and Sankata in Samburu at the beginning of this year. Map © Space for Giants

 

Community

After the successful Baotree trial in November and December last year, Koija community benefitted from the installation of predator proof bomas to 15 households as well as a five day healthcare training workshop that covered prevention of disease, basic first aid, nutrition and health and the dangers of drug abuse. Read more about Baotree here.

A big thank you to Paul (Community Officer) and Lenguya (SDZG Leopard Conservation Program) for organising the deployment of the bomas and the Loisaba workshop team for building them, to Kaltuma (Clinical Health Officer) and Paul for organising and implementing the health care workshop and to Dimitri (Baotree founder) for making it possible.

Installation of a predator proof boma

 

Healthcare workshop

Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Jillian Gann, we were also able to host two medical outreach clinics this month in Sagumai (8th Feb) and Morijo (22nd Feb), attending to a total of 192 patients. If you would like to contribute towards this critical healthcare for our local communities, help us reach our $10,000 goal for 2020 here.

Kaltuma and Jennifer treating patients at Morijo

 

Research

This month, our research team moved into their new offices! The team started with just two employees in 2017 on the SDZG Twiga Walinzi project. With the addition of the Leopard Conservation Program and four more employees, the team of six (along with their equipment) needed a larger working space for their research.

“On behalf of the entire team here, I would like to send a warm thank you to all. This is the best office ever with enough space for all of us, enough for all our equipment and the breeze outside is just so refreshing. The WiFi is also very good and we no longer need to use LAN cables. Thanks so much to Tom, Hannah, Richard, Gichuru, Njuguna and all that made the renovations happen.” – Symon Masiaine, Twiga Walinzi Conservation Coordinator

Symon Masiaine (Twiga Walinzi Conservation Coordinator)

Lexson (Twiga Walinzi), Anthony (Twiga Walinzi), Limo (Leopard Conservation Program) and Lenguya (Leopard Conservation Program) in their new office.

 

Photos of the Month

Most liked Instagram photo:

Marico Sunbird © Peter Ekidor

Most liked Facebook photo:

Leopard © Taro Croze

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 [email protected]!

 

 

By Hannah Campbell

As we reach the end of 2019, we would like to invite you to celebrate some of our key achievements over the past 12 months with us…

Zero Poaching

Loisaba’s K9 Unit out on patrol. © Alastair Boyd

Due to the increase in investment, National Police Reserve status and additional training programmes, poaching incidents at Loisaba have been reduced to zero, with no major security incident occurring in the conservancy this year.

Two Lionesses Collared

Collared lion at Loisaba Conservancy. © Hannah Campbell

In May 2019, another lioness was collared at Loisaba to allow the real-time tracking of the pride using an app, with a chip in the collar activating alarms that are attached to bomas. This ensures guards are on high alert when the lions are around!

In November, this lioness unfortunately sustained a serious injury to her leg, thought to be sustained by a zebra kick. After examination by a vet from Kenya Wildlife Services, it was concluded that recovery would not be possible and the difficult decision to euthanise her was made.

On the 19th December, a further lioness was collared to continue the important coexistence work of Lion Landscapes. Read more about how initiatives at Loisaba are addressing issues with human-wildlife conflict here.

Five Giraffes Fitted with GPS Tracking Devices

Reticulated giraffe GPS tagging operation. © San Diego Zoo Global

In the single largest GPS satellite tagging of giraffe in history, 28 solar powered GPS satellite tracking units were fitted to endangered reticulated giraffe in northern Kenya from 27th August – 5th September this year (five of which at Loisaba). This exercise was carried out in order to better understand their spatial movements and habitat use in the wild. Read more here.

Black Leopards Scientifically Recorded at Loisaba

Black leopard caught on camera trap at Loisaba Conservancy. © San Diego Zoo Global

In February this year, San Diego Zoo Global released a paper confirming the presence of melanistic leopards in Laikipia, with observations on five different dates and five different camera locations. Read more here.

Request for Loisaba to Become an Eastern Black Rhino Sanctuary Sent to KWS

Memory of Black Rhinos at Loisaba. © Down to Earth Films & Kathy Campbell

Loisaba has recently sent an application to Kenya Wildlife Services requesting permission to become a Rhino Sanctuary. Black rhinos were last seen on the property in the early 70’s, and it is our aim to make Loisaba a permanent home for rhinos again. Read more here.

Invasive Species Removal

JCB backhoe digging a pit for the invasive cactus. © Hannah Campbell

With the help of a generous donation through The Nature Conservancy, we have been able to purchase a JCB backhoe in order to help with the removal of the invasive cactus, Opuntia engelmannii. This investment has made a significant improvement to the efficiency of controlling the species, enabling removal of the cactus at over five times the rate of the previous method. The dug up cactus is now also being used to provide cooking fuel for our anti-poaching unit – read more here.

Community Engagement

© Ami Vitale

During 2019, 47 students have been supported through education, including full payment of school fees, books, uniform, school supplies, transport and school trips. The Loisaba team meets with all sponsored students every term to provide advice and support for their studies. We continue to hold education days at our Conservation Centre, hosting 18-20 students per event. The children take part in exercises demonstrating the importance of food webs and conservation of all species and basic mammal ecology.

Since 2017, Loisaba’s Community Liaison Officer has been visiting Ewaso Dispensary every Monday with our Clinical Health Officer who attends to patients, as well as restocking the dispensary with medication provided by the government. In addition to this, medical outreach clinics are held monthly in communities that have little access to medical care. Over 1,500 patients were treated in 2019. Read more here.

Thank you!

Whether you’ve been to stay at one of Elewana’s lodges here at Loisaba, supported us with a generous donation or simply followed our work on social media, you are a valued part of Loisaba’s network.

If you would like to support our work further, visit www.loisaba.com/donate.

Thank you for your support. Here’s to a successful 2020!

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

By Hannah Campbell

Here in Northern Kenya, the traditional lifestyle and livelihood practised by the local Maasai and Samburu people is nomadic pastoralism. This involves moving from place to place, following patterns of rainfall in search of fresh pasture and water for their cattle, camels, sheep and goats. This lifestyle has been practised since their arrival in Kenya in the 15th century, but lately it has risen to an increase in both human-predator conflict and competition with other grazers for resources. With the human population continuing to expand and shifts in settlement and grazing patterns, it is becoming more and more important for humans and wildlife to share habitat, and to coexist peacefully.

Sakakei Naiptari moves his cows out of the boma before they milk them and take them out for grazing at Loisaba. © Ami Vitale

Loisaba Conservancy is at the forefront of livestock and conservation land management, and believes wildlife and livestock can and need to coexist. Loisaba has livestock, but instead of negatively impacting wildlife, the careful management of cattle grazing and the construction of dams at Loisaba has meant that there is a good, consistent supply of food and water for wildlife. This has created a haven for endangered species such as the African wild dog and Grevy’s zebra, as well as large numbers of elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and cheetah.

In partnership with San Diego Zoo Global and Lion Landscapes, Loisaba also helps mitigate human-wildlife conflict that arises in the surrounding communities due to predators killing livestock:

San Diego Zoo Global

As part of San Diego Zoo Global’s Leopard Research Program, a Boma Monitoring Study is being carried out in Loisaba’s neighbouring communities in order to examine the carnivores that visit livestock bomas, and understand what may differentiate between an encounter and an attack at a boma site. Some bomas (carefully chosen by members of the community) have been supplied with subsidised materials such as wire and predator deterrent lights, in order to identify the best tools for mitigation, and contribute towards human-wildlife coexistence rather than conflict.

One of the giraffes fitted with a GPS tracking unit. © Hannah Campbell

San Diego Zoo Global’s Reticulated Giraffe Program, the Twiga Walinzi Initiative, is also looking into livestock interactions. In June 2017, 11 GPS tracking devices were fitted onto giraffes in order to provide insight into the movement of giraffe as well as possible movement corridors and preferred habitat. To further understand the interactions between giraffe and livestock, tracking devices were also placed on some of the cattle, camels and goats at Loisaba. This movement data, when combined with the giraffe movement data, will give a comprehensive oversight on the movements of livestock herds in relation to reticulated giraffe and how livestock are potentially impacting giraffe movement.

Map to show giraffe and livestock movement data.

Lion Landscapes

Lion Landscapes’ “Collaring for Coexistence” initiative is using technology to help lions live alongside people and livestock. Specialised lion GPS collars are deployed and managed in order to provide livestock owners with real time lion movement data via a mobile app, developed by Save The Elephants. This helps people keep their livestock away from lions in an area, and therefore reduces attacks on livestock and retaliation killing. The collars are also equipped with a chip that sets off an alarm when in close contact with Savannah Tracking’s Boma Shield System – the harmless deterrents used (lights and alarms) often stop a lion attacking, and ensure that the night watchmen are awake and ready to chase it away.

Narok – one of Loisaba’s collared lionesses. © Hannah Campbell

Six members of Loisaba’s Rapid Response Team have also been trained and equipped to respond effectively to incidences of human-carnivore conflict, following agreed best practises for lion conservation. This Lion Ranger training from the Peregrine Fund included information on how to respond to wildlife poisoning incidents, in order to prevent further wildlife losses and minimising risk to human and livestock health.

Two of the Loisaba Lion Rangers helping to track the Victoria pride.

by Dr. Nicholas Pilfold

The last two weeks have seen worldwide coverage of the black leopards recorded on San Diego Zoo Global remote cameras in Laikipia, and has resulted in intense interest in the sighting and science behind it. As the research is ongoing, we are continuing to watch our cameras for more observations, so we can unravel some of the mystery behind these black cats, including their range and movements.

When we started our research to scientifically confirm black leopard sightings (see: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/aje.12586), we focused on a small area to the south of Loisaba Conservancy to acquire imagery. We had always had suspected that the black leopards from our study ranged across several conservancies in the area including Loisaba. And now, we have our first recordings on our remote cameras on Loisaba! It is very exciting to start to record black leopard activity at a larger scale.

https://youtu.be/VQq_4oXYpRk

There are many questions that remain about the black panthers in Laikipia. How many are there and what is their frequency in the population? Why do black leopards live here in a semi-arid environment with little dense forest for camouflage? What other advantages does being black provide to leopards that may allow this trait to persist in the population?

While some of these questions may take years to answer, finding these individuals ranging at a broader scale is a step in the right direction for our research.

 

Most of the wildlife in Kenya lives outside of government parks and reserves, so it is critical to work with communities that are sharing land and resources with the wildlife that we want to protect. To better understand the ways that people are interacting with and perceiving leopards, in June 2017 a collaborative partnership between San Diego Zoo Global and Loisaba Conservancy was set up to conduct social and ecological research on the local leopard population in and around Loisaba.

Researchers from San Diego Zoo Global have been using camera traps at Loisaba Conservancy and neighbouring properties in order to understand population dynamics of leopards, and the mechanisms that drive human-wildlife conflict to assess the efficacy of management decisions aimed at mitigating conflict.

We are very excited to hear that these camera traps have captured rare footage of melanistic leopards, otherwise known as black panthers!

Female black panther pictured on San Diego Zoo Global’s camera traps at Loisaba Conservancy’s neighbouring property, Lorok

“Regionally we’ve heard reports of black leopards living here in Kenya, but high-quality footage or imagery to support these observations has always been missing,” said Nicholas Pilfold, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Global scientist. “That’s what we’ve provided here with our cameras, and now we’re able to confirm what has been long suspected about black leopards living in Laikipia County.” 

“Black panthers are uncommon, only about 11% of leopards globally are black. But black panthers in Africa are extremely rare. Our new paper confirms black leopards living in Laikipia County, Kenya, and our observations in the paper are collectively the first confirmed cases in Africa in nearly 100 years. It is certain black panthers have been there all along, but good footage that could confirm it has always been absent until now.”

Click here for full paper.

Learn more at bit.ly/RareBlackLeopard