A Namibian organisation, Giraffe Conservation Foundation, has successfully fitted 28 solar-powered GPS tracking devices to reticulated giraffes.
The device, Twiga Tracker, (meaning giraffe in Kiswahili), uses GPS satellite units to track individual giraffes in order to study the spatial distribution and conservation dynamics of the larger tower of giraffes across several habitat.
The foundation co-operated with San Diego Zoo Global and other project partners including the Kenya Wildlife Service, Northern Rangeland Trust, Loisaba Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and BiK-F Senckenberg in this feat; the first of after extensive testing and development on giraffe populations in Namibia.
“Knowing where giraffes are, how much space they need, and how they move across the landscape seasonally, is vital to [guide] effective conservation and planning. For the first time, we will now have this information for the endangered reticulated giraffe,” conservation ecologist and one of the leaders of this ground-breaking operation, David O’Connor, said. “It was an immense, collaborative team effort, which is what is needed to move the needle forward in conservation,” he concluded.
According to the Namibian Economist, fitting the tracking devices in arid and remote communal lands is no easy task. Each giraffe is carefully selected and darted by an experienced veterinary team. Important biodata is collected together, including physical measurements, and genetic and blood samples.
The first testing was carried out on giraffes in north-western Namibia in 2001. Since then the GPS satellite technology has improved. The newest design is now smaller only the size of three matchboxes, less obtrusive with better technology and increased battery capacity compared to earlier giraffe collars and head harnesses. This improvement made the operation successful.
Commenting on this success, Dr Julian Fennessy, Director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation affirmed that the opportunity to bring field conservation science and technology together allows unravelling of many mysteries about giraffes across Africa.
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.
During the celebration of the World Giraffe Day on 21 June 2019, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation highlighted how it is using satellite technology to study giraffe population and save their endangered habitat in Africa.