In celebration of the World Giraffe Day on 21 June, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), based in Namibia, highlights how it is using satellite technology to study giraffe population and save their habitat across Africa.
Announcing the World Giraffe Day anniversary, GCF tweeted that it is on a mission to “fit 250 GPS satellite units to giraffes throughout Africa”. The GPS satellite units track individual giraffes in order to study spatial movements and conservation dynamics.
In 2015, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified giraffes as vulnerable to extinction, after researchers revealed a massive drop in the population of giraffes over the past 30 years. IUCN estimates that the number of individual giraffes across Africa dropped from about 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015 due to poaching, habitat loss, desert encroachment and civil unrest in many parts of Africa regarded as prime giraffe habitat.
GCF carried out further research across Africa that peaked the Africa-wide giraffe population at approximately 111,000 giraffes, confirming an almost 30% decline.
In a bid to address the problem of a declining population and stem the tide, GCF partnered with Kenya’s Savannah Tracking Ltd to develop lightweight solar-powered GPS satellite units tagged on individual giraffes to provide relevant data, with a view to conserving their population and habitat. The initiative is named Twiga Tracker.
Twiga Tracker is a joint initiative involving GCF, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, San Diego Zoo Global and Wildlife Conservation Alliance, which aims to study spatial movements of all four giraffe species and their use of habitat.
“To save giraffes in Africa, we need a better understanding of how many giraffes there are, where they live, and how they navigate their habitat, particularly in areas where they share it with people. Twiga Tracker aims to track a minimum of 250 giraffes throughout their range in Africa with innovative GPS satellite solar units developed and manufactured in Africa by our partner, Savannah Tracking in Kenya,” the Namibia Economist reported, citing GCF’s World Giraffe Day speech.
Twiga Tracker embodies several design iterations and precision improvements, following the pilot experiment of giraffe GPS satellite units in Namibia in 2001 conducted by GCF Directors, Dr Julian & Steph Fennessy. The new units have been minified to the size of three matchboxes with improved technology and robust battery capacity.
In April 2018, GCF collaborated with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to tag giraffes in Kidepo Valley and Murchison Falls National Parks in northern Uganda. The team fit twenty-five solar-powered GPS satellite units to the bodies of giraffes to study their movement, population dynamics and habitat.
GCF notes that Uganda is leading the giraffe conservation effort with cutting-edge technology and enabling policies, following the creation of the National Giraffe Conservation Strategy and Action Plan.
Similarly, GCF partnered with Niger’s government in April 2019 to translocate 8 giraffes to a new home to form a second satellite population for West Africa’s only habitat. Prior to the translocation, Niger harboured a population of about 600 giraffes in one region, mostly concentrated in an area to the east of Niamey. GCF helped to establish a new home for some giraffes, in a bid to save the population from a communal threat.
Twiga Tracker initiative can be widely implemented to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and conserve other endangered species, such as lions and elephants.
This article is written in honour of the World Giraffe Day. The information is adapted from the GCF website.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Editor at Space in Africa. He writes about Africa’s NewSpace companies and emerging national space programs.