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Paul Nederhoed

Giraffe SAFE

Zoo New England is proud to stand tall with giraffes and partner with the Giraffe SAFE program to save one of Africa’s most majestic species. Through this partnership, we're committing to help conservation efforts in Uganda, where Nubian giraffe habitat is greatly threatened.

Giraffe, an iconic species of Africa, have been undergoing a silent crisis. In just the past few years, their numbers in the wild have dropped dramatically with little notice. Giraffe have already been declared locally extinct in seven African countries, and population surveys estimate an overall 40% decline in the global giraffe population.

Up to this point, only one species of giraffe, comprised of several subspecies, had been known to exist. IUCN currently recognizes one species of giraffe as vulnerable, and lists its nine subspecies as endangered or critically endangered. Genetic studies have now shown that there may actually be four distinct species of giraffe: northern, southern, reticulated, and Masai. This reclassification has led to an increase in conservation efforts, as we are learning that giraffe numbers are declining more steadily than previously thought.

The Nubian giraffe, formerly known as the Rothschild giraffe, is listed as critically endangered by IUCN. Though Uganda has the largest population of wild Nubian giraffe, their numbers are still very low at less than 2,100. Primary threats to giraffe in this region include habitat loss and fragmentation, human encroachment, poaching, oil and gas exploration and effects of climate change and variability.

To help bolster the rapidly declining numbers of this giraffe, Zoo New England has partnered with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in its Giraffe SAFE program plan for Nubian giraffe in Uganda. SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the coordinated efforts of accredited zoos and aquariums to save the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction. Through this partnership, Zoo New England supports giraffe health assessments, translocations and ongoing conservation projects coordinated by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Uganda.

Operation Twiga IV - Nubian Giraffe Release in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve Uganda

More than 50% of the Nubian giraffe population in Uganda is located in the northern part of Murchison Falls National Park, where there is increased mining pressure due to the discovery of oil. Giraffe SAFE has supported four translocations to date to move Nubian giraffe out of this area of oil drilling and pipeline installation. Operation Twiga, the Swahili word for giraffe, (January, 2016) and Operation Twiga 2 (August, 2017) moved 37 giraffe across the Nile river to a southern section of the park. Operation Twiga 3 (August 2018) moved 14 giraffe over 600 kilometers to Kidepo Valley National park. The most recent translocation, Operation Twiga 4 (October, 2019), moved giraffe to Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, an area where giraffe have not lived in decades.

While the giraffe are in hand, blood, fecal and skin samples are taken which help in researching and treating issues such as Giraffe Skin Disease, a parasitic infection that creates skin lesions affecting wild giraffe. The giraffe that have been moved through these operations are doing very well and helping to repopulate their new habitats, bringing new hope for this dwindling species.