Giraffe are the world’s tallest mammals. Yet, we know surprisingly little about where they go or what habitats are required for their survival, and many giraffe populations are in sharp decline. Smithsonian’s Movement of Life scientists are collaborating with scientists from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global, and the Senckenberg Museum to investigate the movement patterns of the Reticulated giraffe.
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.
One of the most charismatic species on earth, giraffe are well known for their long legs and necks, 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. 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 nearly impossible. Collars situated at the top of the neck tend to slide down and interfere with normal chewing and breathing processes, while collar situated at the bottom of the neck tend to slip off when the individual leans down to drink water. As a result, next to nothing is known about the movement patterns of giraffe globally, making effective conservation challenging.
In June of 2017, Movement of Life scientists and partners 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. Powered by an efficient solar rechargeable battery, prototypes have been fit on 11 individuals and have worked remarkably well to date.
Data from these ossicone-mounted collars are providing the necessary fine-scale information to better understand individual movement patterns, providing new information on the habitats used most often, and providing policy makers with the required information to make better informed decisions to conserve the species.
Giraffe Conservation Fund
San Diego Zoo Global