Reticulated Giraffe

Reticulated Giraffe

Giraffa reticulata

Giraffe are the world’s tallest mammals. Yet, we know surprisingly little about their movements and space use. Many giraffe populations are in sharp decline globally, with the species now considered ‘vulnerable’ to extinction. The total global population of giraffe is estimated to be <100,000 individuals, with reticulated giraffe populations estimated to be around 8,700 individuals in the wild, a sharp decline from approximately 31,000 animals in 1998. Smithsonian scientists are collaborating with scientists from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global, and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre to better understand the factors necessary for survival.

Facts

Height: 5.5m (18ft)

Weight: 1360kg (3,000lbs)

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Each species of giraffe has a unique network of patches that covers their body. Reticulated giraffes have large orange-colored patches that are neatly separated by white lines.

Reticulated giraffes mainly reside in Kenya, but small populations of the species can also be found in the southern regions of Somalia and Ethiopia.

Tracking

One of the most charismatic animals on earth, giraffe are well known for their long legs and necks, long purple tongues, and unique patchy coloration. Once found in large numbers across several African countries, many populations of giraffe have faced steep declines. Reticulated giraffe, for example, have declined by as much as 50-80% since the mid-1990s. The causes of these population declines are multifold, with habitat loss and fragmentation, disease, competition with livestock, and the bushmeat trade all being primary drivers – however, all are linked to human population growth. To understand the habitat requirements of the species and better protect the species in the future, advanced tracking technologies are necessary.

Although a distinguishing feature of giraffe, their characteristically long neck has made previous tracking studies difficult. Collars situated at the top of the neck tend to slide down and interfere with normal chewing and breathing processes, while collars situated at the bottom of the neck tend to slip off when the individual leans down to drink water. As a result, very little is known about the movement patterns of giraffe globally, making effective conservation challenging.

In January 2017, Giraffe Conservation Foundation collaborated with Savannah Tracking Ltd, a GPS collar manufacturer located in Nairobi, Kenya, to design a prototype device to fit on the ossicone, or hornlike protrusion, of the giraffe. These solar powered tracking devices have worked well to date and are providing detailed information on the movements of individual giraffe. Eleven (11) reticulated giraffe were fit with ossi-units in Kenya in 2017.

Data from these ossicone-mounted tracking units are providing the necessary fine-scale information to better understand individual movement patterns, providing new information on the space use of the species, and providing policy makers with the required information to make better informed decisions to conserve the populations into the future.

Meet the Team

Jared Stabach, Ph.D.

Ecologist, MoL Program Coordinator
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI)
Conservation Ecology Center
National Zoological Park

Peter Leimgruber, Ph.D.

Conservation Biologist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI)
Conservation Ecology Center