Giraffe Conservation Program

In the past 20 years, there has been an estimated 35% decline in wild giraffe populations. In 1998 the IUCN estimated the total number of giraffe in Africa to exceed 140,000, but by 2016, this number has dropped to fewer than 90,000 individuals. Thus far there has been limited research and conservation efforts on wild giraffe, so the extent of their conservation threats are often undetermined.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has partnered with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to support much-needed field research on the different giraffe subspecies and to help with multiple conservation strategies. In January 2016, the Zoo provided financial support and a staff veterinarian to help Operation Twiga translocate 18 Rothschild’s giraffe in Uganda back to a historic home range across the Nile River.

Love4Longnecks = In addition to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s monetary contribution to programs like Operation Twiga (read below), we are spearheading a group of giraffe care professionals to raise awareness of the need to protect wild giraffe populations. Click here to learn more about Love 4 Longnecks.

Saving wild giraffe through Operation Twiga

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s head veterinarian, Dr. Liza Dadone, recently made a trip to Uganda, Africa. While there, she assisted a diverse veterinary team with Operation Twiga, a project aimed at translocating 18 Rothschild’s giraffe from the northern part of Murchison Falls National Park to the southern part. A significant portion of the operation, over $26,000, was funded by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s visitors and members through Quarters for Conservation.

The operation was imperative to establish a population of Rothschild’s giraffe back into a historic home range, where they had lived 200 years ago. The project was timed before a potential new threat to the last remaining Rothschild’s giraffe – oil exploration through the northern part of Murchison Falls National Park.

Moving this assurance population to an area with fewer threats will hopefully help stabilize the population of this subspecies in the wild.

“Giraffe have faced a 35% decline in population in the last 15 years – there are now only about 80,000 giraffe remaining in the wild,” Dadone said. “Rothschild’s giraffe are one of the most critically endangered subspecies of giraffe, with only 1,500 remaining in the wild; of those, almost the entire population currently live in Murchison Falls National Park.”

The park has amazing ecological diversity. Not only is it home to giraffe, but also colobus monkeys, lions, crowned cranes, vultures, egrets, hippos, elephants and more! Dadone said it was amazing to see so many animals that are also represented at CMZ. Though Murchison Falls National Park has many species of animals, it is not without its struggles. Like much of Africa, the national park in Uganda faces threats from poachers and habitat loss.

“I traveled to Uganda to lend my veterinary expertise to Giraffe Conservation Foundation for Operation Twiga,” Dadone said. “Over two weeks, I worked with a multinational team of veterinarians, park rangers, researchers, and conservationists from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Cleveland Zoo and the Gorilla Doctors, veterinarians that primarily work with wild mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rowanda. It was an amazing experience to work with such a passionate group of people to save this critically endangered species.”

In these two weeks, the team located giraffe between the ages of two and three for potential translocation. Once a giraffe was located, it was anesthetized briefly so it could be examined and a decision could be made on whether the giraffe would be relocated. If so, the team transported it by truck to a boma, or temporary holding location. From there, the group of giraffe was transported by barge across the Nile to the south side of Murchison Falls National Park. The process was then repeated until three groups, a total of 18 giraffe (14 females and four males), were translocated.

“Operation Twiga took an immeasurable amount of collaboration,” Dadone said. “I’m so proud that CMZ’s members and guests paid for a portion of Operation Twiga through Quarters for Conservation votes. This support is significant and validates our commitment to giraffe, both at our Zoo and in the wild.”

For the next two years, the translocated giraffe will be monitored via GPS collars that are strapped underneath their chins and sit between their osocones. The goal is to have the giraffe breed and populate the new area.

“It gives me hope that a country like Uganda is taking a proactive step at a very critical time for this species,” Dadone said. “U.S. zoos can make a big impact by helping Africa with the financial challenges they face when trying to save these species. Together we need to spread the word about the struggles animals are facing in the wild and work on solutions to save them.”