The vast majority of Masai giraffe live in Tanzania. Surprisingly little is known about the Masai giraffe, how they live, and the best ways to save them. Unfortunately, the Masai giraffe population has declined by over 50% in the last 30 years, and in 2019 they were listed as Endangered (IUCN Red List).
Save Giraffes Now and other partners are supporting innovative research lead by North Carolina Zoo scientists who have been working in Tanzania since 2013. The research is being conducted on the giraffe in the Nyerere National Park (formerly called Selous Game Reserve) and Ruaha National Park, which together hold about half of all the giraffe in Tanzania. Since so little is known about the giraffe in these two reserves – a combined area of 25,700 square miles (an area over twice the size of Maryland) – this project is collecting vital information on the giraffe in these areas.
In addition to understanding how many giraffe there are, a key component of this study is to learn where the giraffe live, which habitats they use and their seasonal and other movements to different areas. These are important data to enable us to work with Government officials to prent roads and other infrastructure destroying key giraffe areas.
Additionally, the project investigates the effects of a potentially harmful disease — Giraffe Skin Disease — that is becoming more prominent in Masai giraffe in Tanzania. This emerging disease causes severe-looking lesions on giraffe. Its causes and effects are poorly understood, but it could become a threat to giraffe populations if the lesions are found to invade bone and muscle structure, reducing the giraffe’s mobility.
At the end of 2019, the project had identified over 335 individual giraffe, and found that the population in both parks was composed of over 70% adults. This high ratio of adults in the population is a worrying sign that possibly not enough calves are making it to adulthood, but continued research is needed. We are just beginning to uncover findings on these giraffe, but even these early results are proving valuable in conservation decision-making in trying to help these endangered giraffe.
The goals of this conservation research project include:
1. Conduct standardized roadside surveys in Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve (soon to be Nyerere National Park) which will establish a baseline and track changes in giraffe population over time.
3. Determine the demographic structure of giraffe populations in the two study ecosystems and monitor for changes and effects of different threats over time.
4. Understand the giraffe populations use of different habitat types in the two study areas and how this use affects the degree of risk from different threats (such as roads, other construction farming, etc.) facing giraffe.
5. Determine the prevalence, progression, and effect on mortality rate (if any) from Giraffe Skin Disease in Ruaha National Park.
6. Continue to share findings with key stakeholders, wildlife officials and other NGOS to incentivize and inform conservation strategies.