Wildlife Experts Plan The Survival Of Maasai Giraffe In Tsavo Landscape
She is not one of the “Big Five.” Her face is not depicted in the Coat of Arms. Her lithe and graceful form has yet to adorn the fuselage of KQ planes.
She is still one of the most photographed animals in the wild. She has stood tall over the sprawling Savannah bushland for centuries, a towering beauty that forever strides across expansive landscapes across the country in breath-taking majesty and splendor.
“She is an important part of the wildlife ecosystem.” Our efforts should be combined to ensure her survival,” says Mr. Amos Chege, a wildlife specialist who works as the African Wildlife Foundation’s Project Officer in charge of Species Conservation (AWF).
Mr. Chege is referring to the Maasai Giraffe, an iconic subspecies of the giraffe family that conservationists warn is under critical threat from poaching, climate change, habitat loss due to improper land use, diseases, an exploding human population, and electrocution from electric fences by farmers living adjacent to wildlife areas.
To the untrained eye, data on giraffes in Kenya may appear to be reassuring. The country has a total population of 34,240 giraffes, according to the National Wildlife Census 2021 Report.
There are three subspecies of giraffes: Reticulated (also known as Somali giraffe), Maasai (also known as Kilimanjaro giraffe), and Rothschild (also known as Uganda or Baringo giraffe).
The Reticulated species has the most giraffes (17,740), followed by the Maasai sub-species (13, 372). The Rothschild’s giraffe has the smallest population, with only 768 individuals.
Because of the frighteningly small number of members in this last category, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) designated Rothschild’s giraffe as an endangered subspecies.
Maasai and Reticulated giraffes are both classified as Least Concern (LC), indicating a stable population.
The Maasai giraffe is a legendary transboundary traveler, having roamed hundreds of kilometers across landscapes in neighboring countries.
According to experts, animals in Tsavo National Park in Kenya frequently cross over to Mkomazi National Park in Northeastern Tanzania, while giraffes in Maasai Mara migrate to Kilimanjaro and Logindo in Tanzania. Naivasha and Nairobi are also home to Maasai giraffes.
Tsavo landscape alone is home to 4,300 giraffes, accounting for roughly 30% of the nation’s giraffe population.
Surprisingly, giraffes are not listed as endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
CITES is a global conservation watchdog that constantly monitors plant and species populations, especially those traded on the international market.
Giraffes’ absence from this critical list is attributed to the possibility that illegal trade in giraffe skins and other products remains largely a localized criminal enterprise, failing to attract CITES’ global scrutiny.
This has unintentionally created the false impression that giraffes are a thriving wildlife species that requires little attention from both regional and international conservation players.
The National Giraffe Recovery and Action Plan for Kenya 2018-2022 debunks such a notion. The report paints a bleak picture of this iconic species. According to the report, the country’s giraffe population has declined from over 45,000 to less than 35,000 in the last thirty years.
This decline has prompted wildlife experts to call on the government and conservation stakeholders to intervene immediately in order to boost species populations and address the factors that have contributed to biodiversity loss.
“Those factors that threaten giraffes in the wild are with us today. Such threats need immediate attention,” says Mr. Chege.
The formation of the Tsavo Landscape Giraffe Range Committee was one of the most deliberate steps taken to protect the Maasai Giraffe. Wildlife experts and scientists from Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI), African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Wildlife Works, and Tsavo Conservancies, among others, make up this committee.
One of the committee’s responsibilities is to develop range-specific interventions to address the unique threats that this animal faces. The committee will also direct the implementation of Maasai Giraffe conservation strategies in the Tsavo Landscape.
Tsavo East Senior Warden Wilson Njue spoke of the need to design workable strategies to not only safeguard the Maasai giraffe population but also present an opportunity to shore up current numbers while opening a committee session in Voi on Monday.
“This committee is intended to create a synergy in our joint operations that are geared towards promoting the wellbeing of this giraffe while in the wild,” he said.
The meeting also highlighted the numerous threats that Maasai giraffes face in the Tsavo Landscape. The majority of the threats identified in Kenya’s National Recovery and Action Plan for Giraffes included habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, diseases, climate change, infrastructure development, and inbreeding.
However, the Tsavo committee cited additional threats in the region that pose a critical threat to the animal’s well-being.
One prominent current threat mentioned is the increase in giraffe electrocution due to high-voltage electric fences erected by farmers and ranchers to protect their livestock and crops from wild animals.
Chege described the rising number of electrocutions as concerning because more people are turning to electric fences as a long-term solution to the problem of human-wildlife conflict. He called for a thorough examination of the various types of electric fences used by farmers.
He explained that proper electric fences were intended to deter rather than kill wild animals.
“Giraffes are getting increasingly electrocuted by unsuitable electric fences that carry abnormal voltage. There is a need to conduct an audit on the electric fences in wildlife areas to ascertain if the voltage is safe for animals,” he said.
The committee also agreed to broad cross-agency data sharing on giraffes in order to improve coordinated action and response. The creation of a centralized database on giraffes to aid in action, as well as the participation of conservancies in the protection of this sub-species, were also agreed upon.
Mr. David Kimutai, KWS senior scientist for Tsavo landscape, urged stakeholders to collaborate in order for the committee to achieve its goals.