Looking Out for the World’s Tallest Animal

We celebrated World Giraffe Day at the Zoo on June 21, however, the Zoo’s commitment to protecting giraffes goes far beyond one day of celebration. Giraffes are one of the most recognizable animals in the world and a favorite of many zoo-goers. Despite this, they have not been well-studied and much remains to be learned about their social systems. The Zoo is supporting this important research through its Conservation Action Now (CAN) grant program.

Until recently giraffes were considered common, but a recent assessment revealed that wild giraffe populations have declined by 40 percent in the last 30 years. Thus, the giraffe is now listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Giraffes face many threats in the wild that have caused this decline, including poaching for their meat and skins, habitat destruction from agricultural expansion, mining, and logging, and civil unrest. This decline went largely unnoticed until recently because of a lack of research on wild giraffes.

Giraffes living in protected areas are safe from habitat destruction and poaching to some extent. However, these areas are fenced, and thus prevent the population from expanding. To address this limitation, some giraffes from one area can be moved or translocated to new protected areas. Previous giraffe translocations have been conducted with little research to select the best candidates to move. Yet, studies of elephant translocations have shown that moves are more successful when entire family groups are moved together. To ensure that future giraffe translocations are successful, the Giraffe Research and Conservation Trust is studying giraffe social organization, so that individuals that have social bonds can be moved together. The Zoo provided a Conservation Action Now (CAN) grant to help fund this research.

The Zoo also protects giraffes by supporting its long-term legacy conservation partner, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). NRT oversees four regional hubs in Kenya. Community conservancies are established in these areas to sustainably manage land to reduce grazing pressure and competition between livestock and wildlife. The Zoo has been providing financial support to the NRT Lekurruki Conservancy since 2009.

You can help giraffes by becoming a Zoo member! The money used to support the CAN grant program and NRT is generated by sales of Zoo memberships. You can also help giraffes by buying jewelry sold in the Zoo’s gift shop that is made by Kenyan women from NRT’s conservancies. Income earned from selling this jewelry reduces the community’s reliance on livestock. Less livestock means less competition for food and water between livestock and wildlife, including giraffes.


– Dr. Rebecca Snyder, zoological curator of science and conservation

Photo credit: Jennifer D’Agostino.

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