The Rothschild's giraffe is the latest charismatic African mammal to be declared "Endangered" by IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature), adding to the growing number of species under threat of extinction. A recent analysis by Fennessy and Brenneman 2010 indicates that the Rothschild's populations are in peril and the IUCN Red List supports this (http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/174469/0).
There are currently nine recognized giraffe sub-species and the Rothschild's is the second most imperiled, with fewer than 670 individuals remaining in the wild. Historically ranging across western Kenya, Uganda, and southern Sudan, it has been almost totally eliminated from most of its former range and now survives in only a few small and isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda.
In Kenya, all known wild populations of Rothschild's giraffe have been eradicated by agricultural development and remnant populations are confined to National Parks, private properties and other protected areas. These remaining populations are physically isolated from one another making it impossible for them to interbreed and population growth is further hindered as a result of the closed nature of these conservation areas which have reached or exceeded carrying capacities.
Sixty percent of the world's remaining wild population of Rothschild's giraffe are found in Kenya (with the remainder in Uganda), a country that has recently shown its commitment to giraffe conservation. With the launch of a National Giraffe Conservation Strategy, the first giraffe-focused conservation action plan of its kind, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is leading the way. This Strategy will work to conserve all three of the giraffe sub-species found in Kenya, in particular the endangered Rothschild's giraffe. Its development marks a first in giraffe conservation and raises awareness of the significance of, and urgent need to conserve these animals.
Despite low population figures and an "Endangered" status, little is known about the ecology and behaviour of Rothschild's giraffe in the wild, an issue that must be addressed if we are to develop and implement effective conservation strategies. To this end the Rothschild's Giraffe Project was launched in Spring 2010. This project seeks to provide the first scientific review of Rothschild's behaviour and ecology in the wild, and provide information about key ecological and habitat requirements necessary for the development and implementation of meaningful conservation initiatives.
Dr Julian Fennessy, well known in African conservation circles for his pioneering work in giraffe conservation, comments, "I am delighted and of course saddened at the same time that the Rothschild giraffe has finally made the IUCN Red List status. We have been striving for this for a while now and hope this will highlight to the world the critical state its tallest creature is in. As the second giraffe sub-species (of 9 known) to now be listed as endangered, we all have our work cut out to form sound conservation strategies to improve the situation in the short, medium and long term. The whole thrust of our work here is to put strategies in place BEFORE it is too late - extinction is simply not an option."
The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) is actively supporting the Rothschild's Giraffe Project as well as other giraffe research across Africa. These include the provision of technical support and funding, sharing data and results for a comprehensive approach to giraffe conservation. "I can't imagine a world without giraffes, this news makes it imperative we must act to protect and preserve these magnificent creatures." comments Lynn Sherr Patron, Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF).
AWF recently joined The Giraffe Conservation Foundation and other partners to collar selected highly endangered West African giraffes in its Regional Parc W Heartland, home to the only 220 West African giraffes remaining in the wild. The collaring exercise will help researchers better understand the ranging patterns of the few herds that remain, and educate communities that live alongside the giraffes about their habits and conservation needs.
AWF works to protect endangered species through it Heartland Program, a large-landscape conservation program operational in 14 African countries and three major regions of Africa.