Giraffes are experiencing a “silent” extinction crisis. Until recently, they were considered common throughout much of their African range and their numbers were not being well-monitored. In the last five years, however, experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group compiled population data and discovered that the wild giraffe population has declined by 40 percent in the last 30 years. Habitat destruction and poaching are the main reasons for the sharp decline.
Giraffes are now extinct in seven African countries where they used to be plentiful. Subsequently, the giraffe’s status on the IUCN Red List was changed from Least Concern to Vulnerable, just one step below Endangered. Giraffes are clearly in need of conservation action and they have become a conservation priority for many zoos. As a result, the Giraffe SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) program began in 2017.
SAFE programs were established for 10 species in 2015 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) with a goal of focusing the collective expertise from accredited zoos and aquariums and leveraging their large audiences to save species. This year, the Oklahoma City Zoo joined 15 other AZA-accredited institutions to become a Giraffe SAFE partner. Giraffe SAFE partners commit to providing annual financial support for giraffe conservation programs in Kenya, Tanzania, or Uganda. Partners also promote public awareness about the plight of wild giraffes and empower their audiences to take action to help giraffes.
OKC Zoo has been helping save giraffes and many other vulnerable African species since 2009 through its legacy conservation partnership with Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) in Kenya. NRT establishes community conservancies to help local people sustainably manage land and water to reduce competition between livestock and wildlife. This is extremely important in drought prone Kenya where resource competition is fierce. Community members are also trained and employed to conduct anti-poaching and wildlife monitoring patrols in the conservancy.
OKC Zoo provides significant financial support annually to NRT’s Lekurruki Conservancy in northern Kenya. This money comes from the Oklahoma Zoological Society (OZS) and is generated mainly through ZooFriends membership sales. The money is used to pay and equip the rangers who regularly patrol the Lekurruki Conservancy. These rangers mitigate conflict caused by livestock encroachment from neighboring areas, record wildlife sightings, plus document and prevent poaching.
Earlier this year, two OKC Zoo staff members traveled to Kenya to visit the Lekurruki Conservancy. These visits are important for maintaining a strong partnership and for monitoring progress. Zoo staff also assisted with a census of Grevy’s zebras and reticulated giraffes while they were in Kenya, lending their expertise to help monitor giraffe populations.
You can also help giraffes:
- Become a ZooFriends member. Money generated from membership sales is used to support the Zoo’s legacy conservation partners, including Northern Rangelands Trust.
- Answer “Yes” when asked to Round Up for Conservation while making purchases at the OKC Zoo. Round Up funds were used to pay travel costs for Zoo staff to help with a census of reticulated giraffes in Kenya.
- Buy NRT jewelry sold in the Zoo’s gift shop. These items are handmade by women in the conservancies who receive the proceeds. This diversifies family income, reducing reliance on livestock.
- Come celebrate World Giraffe Day at the OKC Zoo on June 21!
-Rebecca Snyder, Curator of Conservation and Science