The gentle, iconic giraffe indicates the health of African savanna ecosystems, home to some of the most spectacular displays of wildlife in the world. But savanna ecosystems are in serious trouble. Habitat loss, illegal hunting, and disease are decimating savanna wildlife. Giraffe numbers have declined drastically to fewer than 100,000 across the African continent.
Since 2011, Project GIRAFFE: GIRAffe Facing Fragmentation Effects has been monitoring births, deaths, and movements of more than 2,100 individual giraffes in an area over 1,500 square kilometers in the Tarangire Ecosystem of northern Tanzania. We use a special computer program that recognizes each giraffe’s unique fur pattern from photographs. Wildlife habitat is increasingly fragmented by humans and our giraffe conservation research is discovering where giraffes are doing well, where they are not, and why. We focus on Masai giraffes, a type whose numbers have decreased by 50% in recent times.
Our current research objective is to quantify the fitness consequences of social relationships, grouping patterns, and natal dispersal using the giraffe as a model species for ungulate fission-fusion societies. We are testing hypotheses about which environmental and social factors are correlated with demographic variation. We are asking the following questions:
- What is the social structure of giraffes?
- Do demographic parameters vary among social units of giraffes, and do environmental and social variables explain any observed variation?
- How do environmental, temporal, and social variables influence size and composition of giraffe groups?
- What are the patterns and costs of giraffe natal dispersal?
Our research provides data-driven guidance for effective conservation actions in an ever more fragmented world, to ensure the future of wild giraffes. We thank the University of Zürich, the Swiss-based Promotor Foundation, and the US-based Sacramento Zoo, Columbus Zoo, and Tulsa Zoo for financially supporting this research.
In collaboration with: