Zingela Giraffe Conservation Project

 

INTRODUCTION

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed Giraffe (Giraffa
camelopardalis) as Vulnerable following a population decline of 36-40% over the last three
decades. The factors causing this decline (levels of exploitation and decline in area of occupancy
and habitat quality) have not ceased and may not be reversible throughout the species’ range.
Historically the species has been overlooked in terms of research and conservation, but in the
past five years, considerable progress has been made in compiling and producing a species-wide
assessment of population size and distribution by the members of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and
Okapi Specialist Group. Some Giraffe populations are stable or increasing, while others are
declining, and each population is subject to pressure by threats specific to their local country or
region. The aim of the Zingela Giraffe Conservation Project (ZGCP) is to investigate and address
the threats specific to the Giraffe population residing in our area.

HABITAT

Giraffes are most often found in savanna/woodland habitats, but range widely throughout
Africa. They are browsers that subsist on a variable diet that includes leaves, stems, flowers, and
fruits. They do not need to drink on a daily basis. Across the continent, detailed records of
Giraffe feeding ecology have noted that each population has a very diverse diet of up to 93
different species, but that usually a hhalf dozen plant species comprise at least 75% of the diet.
Acacia is fed on in high proportions werever Giraffes are found, but during the dry season, the
preferred plant species varies by location. Boscia, Grewia, and Maerua have all been identified
as the most common plant species in the diet of giraffes in the dry season in our area. Giraffe
can therefore have distinct seasonal shifts in home ranges according to the availability of food
items.

THREATS

In South Africa, the main perceived threats are habitat loss and conversion of land for human
development, and illegal hunting. In particular land restitution has seen 90% of conservation
areas (in our immediate area) returned to local communities, many of whom have no
background, training or funds to continue the conservation in these areas. As such our 100
000ha biosphere reserve encompassing 26 conservation areas has been reduced to just three
areas totalling 10 000ha. It is within these 10 00ha that our primary Giraffe Conservation Project
will take place with the ultimate aim of expanding the amount of habitat available to Giraffe by
sequentially including and establishing surrounding community conservation areas.
In particular we have identified three major threats to Giraffes in our conservation area:
(1) habitat loss (through deforestation, land use conversion, expansion of agricultural activities
and human population growth)
(2) illegal hunting (poaching), and
(3) ecological changes (mining activity, habitat conversion to agriculture, climate-induced
processes).

CONSERVATION

Conservation measures typically include habitat management and protection through law
enforcement and community based conservation initiatives. Successful protection of habitat
and cessation of habitat encroachment with the use of fences and border protection can result
in large herds building up within an area. The continued growth of these populations however is
limited by the ability of that ecosystem to support a particular number of Giraffes due to space,
water and forage availability (i.e., limited carrying capacity). Over population of Giraffe can have
deleterious effects on indigenous flora which may in turn adversely affect other animals within
the conservation area and it is necessary to calculate a sustainable carrying capacity for a
specific area. This will help in planning for the future expansion of conservation areas or for
reducing the population size through game capture.

CONSERVATION TECHNIQUES

Historic and current estimates adopted a variety of methods (which we will use) that included
both aerial and ground surveys, as well as photographic capture/re-capture, interviews and best
estimates.

The conservation actions most useful and appropriate for Giraffes will differ as a function of
Giraffe population dynamics, ecological stability, national policies, and legislation. Giraffes are
subject to various degrees of legal protection in their range states. Large populations occur in
national protected areas and on private farms, but many populations also exist in unprotected
and communal areas. Private farms make up 6 500ha of our 10 000ha focal conservation area
while 3 500ha is community owned. Our conservation project therefore requires an integrative
approach including both local community members and private land owners in order to build a
consensus on how to best manage and conserve our shared Giraffe population.
Throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, an increasing number of Giraffe translocations have
repopulated former habitats with Giraffes, fostering wildlife enterprises including tourism and
consumptive use, and maintaining genetic diversity given small, enclosed and fragmented
populations. Through our ongoing Giraffe Conservation Project we aim to gather all the data
necessary for generating a conservation plan for our Giraffe while also gathering funds to
implement this plan.

*Please note the above document is adapted from the IUCN Red List of Threatened
Species information page and is not intended to be viewed as my original work but
rather as a background to the Giraffe Conservation Project we are launching later this
year.

Image of Dr Peter Calverly (BSc. Hons., MSc, PhD) observing Crocodiles

1 Comment

  1. France Zeleznik on April 11, 2019 at 11:36 am

    We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our whole community will be grateful to you.

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