Conservation | Rediscovering the Giraffe

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Namibia Giraffe Conservation Status Project

By Andri Marais and Stephanie Fennessy

On a continent richly steeped in fascinating people and cultures, the giraffe has been a symbol of myth and mystery, the quintessential African animal. Thousands of years ago, the San people etched the giraffe’s towering image in rock, and yet, ironically, it was not until 1776 on an expedition north of the Orange River that the giraffe was “discovered” in southern Africa.

Today, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) is seeking to rediscover the range, numbers and status of giraffe populations in Africa. In Namibia, with support from N­edbank’s Go Green Fund, the GCF has embarked on the first-ever, country-wide assessment of the conservation status of giraffe (Angolan giraffe – Giraffa camelopardalis angolensis).
This project aims to collate all historical and currently available census and anecdotal data on numbers, distribution and translocation records of, as well as threats to, giraffe throughout Namibia in order to gain a greater understanding of their numbers and their conservation status in the country.
To date, limited long-term and no country-wide research efforts have ever been undertaken on giraffe populations in Namibia, something which is quite remarkable considering their tourism and social status. While giraffe are currently common both inside and outside protected areas in Namibia, numbers are essentially unknown as no accurate or standardised estimate of population numbers has ever been undertaken.
In the late 1990s, it was estimated that giraffe numbers exceeded 140,000 individuals throughout Africa. A decade and a half on, preliminary population estimates suggest that the numbers are down to less than 80,000 individuals – a decline of over 40%. The need for accurate evaluation is therefore long overdue.
Currently, the giraffe is designated a species of “Least Concern” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. However, if giraffe subspecies become recognised as separate species, the most at-risk among them would enjoy stronger protection. Some giraffe species will become the most endangered large mammals in the world.
Several subspecies are at greater risk than the species as a whole with some subspecies only having 300 to 1,100 animals left. In 2008 and 2010, the GCF and the IUCN’s Species Specialist Committee Giraffe Working Group overcame the odds by getting two giraffe subspecies listed as “before Endangered”– the West African (G. c. peralta) and Rothschild’s (G. c. rothschildi), respectively.
In Namibia, recent preliminary findings indicate that those giraffe naturally occurring in the northeast may be totally genetically different to those in the rest of the country. Our limited knowledge regarding the current status of giraffe as a species, the currently recognised nine subspecies, poses a significant threat to their long-term survival in Africa.

Giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis, at dusk, Etosha National Park, Namibia

Standing tall – female giraffe towering over the plains in Etosha National Park

Limiting Factors

Here are some of the factors affecting giraffe distribution and conservation in Namibia and elsewhere in Africa

A lack of long-term research including ecology, physiology and taxonomy, and reliable historical and current data, remain the most limiting factors in understanding giraffe. More essential baseline knowledge is required across the board, but advances are being made.

Giraffe populations are regulated in part by natural mortality caused by predation. Even adult male giraffe can be predated by lions. Sub adults and calves are particularly vulnerable and can be taken by hyena, leopard, cheetah, crocodile, and of course, humans! Malnutrition and diseases, including anthrax and rinderpest, play a role in limiting population growth.

Poaching, human population growth, competition for resources with humans and domestic stock, impact of war and civil unrest, diseases, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation, impact giraffe distribution across the African continent.

Conservation Significance
Giraffe are agents of habitat and landscape change. They open up areas and promote growth of new forage for themselves and other wildlife. Moderate giraffe browsing has been shown to stimulate shoot production in certain Acacia species, while enhancing seed dispersal and germination through the beneficial effects of its digestive processes. Giraffe are also thought to play a role in pollination, and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with oxpecker birds.


A rare sight – giraffe drinking in the Hoanib river

Economic Significance
The giraffe’s primary economic benefit results from its evolutionary uniqueness. Images of giraffe are used daily around the world. Giraffe market Africa. Their unmistakable silhouettes and evocative images are regularly used in advertising to sell anything from tea bags to wine, from whisky to mobile phones and even the FIFA World Cup.

Preliminary findings from the Namibia Giraffe Conservation Status project
While this research project is still in progress and data collection has not been finalised, there are encouraging signs that giraffe population numbers in Namibia are increasing, while most other populations in Africa are decreasing. This can most likely be attributed to the good collaboration and conservation management of public-private and communal conservation efforts in Namibia.
With the support of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Millenium Challenge Account Namibia, and one of the best communal conservation efforts on the continent, giraffe range has also increased back into communal conservancies.
The GCF’s project is designed to enhance our knowledge of giraffe status and distribution in Namibia. It will provide the necessary base for possible future giraffe research and conservation management to be conducted in the country.
A greater understanding of the perceived ‘healthy’ giraffe population can also potentially assist with establishing a framework for the management of other giraffe populations in Africa, using Namibia as a true success story.

Giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis, wading through seasonal water in pan, Etosha National Park, Namibia

At the end of the rainy season, Etosha National Park

The authors
Stephanie Fennessy is the Executive Officer and Andri Marais a volunteer researcher with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), the world’s first and only charitable foundation dedicated solely to the conservation and management of giraffe in the wild. GCF is a UK registered charity, which was founded in 2009 by a small and dedicated group of trustees with a strong concern ­for giraffe and their conservation i­n Africa.
If you have giraffe on your land or know of giraffe living in isolated areas of Namibia, please contact the GCF at or call 081 489 3127 to contribute to this important project.
For more infor-mation about GCF, visit our website

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World Giraffe Day is a new and exciting initiative of GCF to celebrate the longest-necked animal on the longest day or night of the year – June 21! (depending in which hemisphere you live!) It is a worldwide celebration of these amazing creatures. It is an event to shed light on the challenges they face in the wild, and to raise awareness of the conservation efforts to help keep these iconic animals on the planet.
Zoos, conservation centers, and museums around the world host events as part of World Giraffe Day. The first such event took place in 2014.

Alarming giraffe facts

  • Giraffe numbers in Africa have plummeted from approximately 140,000 to less than 80,000 in the last 15 years – a decline of over 40%
  • Giraffe have already become extinct in seven African countries
  • Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa with an increasing giraffe population, we are obviously doing something right here

Acacia species are the preferred forage for giraffe across Africa

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