Giraffe Populations on the Rise

Accompanying our recent publication on the Conservation Status of Giraffe, National Geographic published a short article to profile the good news that there are approximately 117,173 giraffe in the wild in Africa today, a 20% increase from 2015 estimates. Part of the reason for the increase is simply due to improved survey and analytical techniques (such as Crego et al. 2020), refining our estimates with better quality data. In other cases, the observed increases are due directly to conservation efforts across the species ranges, including species translocations led by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Northern giraffe (Critically Endangered) remain the most threatened of all the giraffe species, with roughly 5,900 individuals remaining, scattered across isolated pockets in North Africa. Reticulated giraffe (Endangered) are the second least-populous, with roughly 16,000 individuals. Roughly 45,000 Masai giraffe (Endangered) remain, a significant increase from 2015, while southern giraffe (~48,000 individuals) have remained relatively stable.

Congratulations to Michael Brown, Julian Fennessy and all co-authors for this publication and their efforts to raise the profile of giraffe and take action with local organizations and officials to work towards reversing the trends of the past. The National Geographic article can be found online here.

Why Wildebeest are King

If you’ve ever been to the Serengeti, you’ve likely seen thousands of wildebeest tirelessly following nutrient gradients to meet energy demands. With approximately 1.3 million individuals across the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem, wildebeest outnumber all other large mammals combined (no kidding) and are recognized as a keystone species, affecting nearly every aspect of the ecosystem, including local biodiversity, wildlife intensity, grassland-tree dynamics, food web structure, and local economies.

This species and the ancient landscape that supports them, however, is in jeopardy. Check out the December 2021 edition of National Geographic to get a thorough view of the importance of wildebeest to the Serengeti, replete with maps, data, and a full discussion of the factors impacting their survival. It’s the first time in 30 years that National Geographic has a entire magazine devoted to the Serengeti, with the online version providing additional dynamic maps to put the migration in even greater perspective.

If you look at the maps closely…..I mean really closely…’ll see my and Dr Lacey Hughey‘s name alongside our friends and colleagues for our contribution to the editing and analysis process. Amazing to see my PhD data collected at Colorado State University from 2010-2013 annotated by professional cartographers. Thanks Nat Geo! A true bucket list achievement for me.

Also makes a great Christmas gift! Happy reading.

Annotating Animal Movement Data

If you have animal movement data and want to free your inner coder, check out our latest paper in Remote Sensing entitled “Enhancing Animal Movement Analyses: Spatiotemporal Matching of Animal Positions with Remotely Sensed Data Using Google Earth Engine and R” to dynamically extract a suite of remote sensing datasets at individual GPS point observations. Importantly, the code shows you how to match the spatio-temporal dynamics of your datasets. The manuscript is open access, with detailed code on how to conduct the analysis on your own. Congratulations to SCBI post-doctoral researcher Ramiro Crego, University of Glasgow graduate student Majaliwa Masolele, and SCBI ecologist Grant Connette for this great contribution.

Global Initiative on Ungulate Migration

Just published in Science, the Global Initiative on Ungulate Migration (GIUM) is a collaboration of 92 international scientists and conservationists from more than 25 countries to map out a future for migratory ungulates. Congratulations to all involved, especially the scientific leads. Further details, including a Migration Viewer , can be found at Even cooler, take a look at the YouTube video. Looking forward to seeing how this initiative and all the collaborators involved grow over time. A first of its kind!

Moving through the mosaic

Incredibly proud of this one. Congratulations to Ramiro Crego for pushing this publication forward, which uses least-cost paths and circuit theory to identify key linkage zones across the Laikipia plateau for African elephant, reticulated giraffe, plains zebra, and Grevy’s zebra. It’s hoped that results from this research will prove useful for wildlife managers across the region, detailing priority areas that are necessary to maintain habitat connectivity for these mega-herbivores. For more details, see our publication in Landscape Ecology.

Talking Climate Change with Earth Scientists

Psyched to have been part of this virtual lecture series with fellow Smithsonian Movement of Life scientists Matt Ogburn and Autumn-Lynn Harrison and the team from NASA, including Jeffrey Masek, Bridget Seegers, and Lesley Ott. Super cool event with great and accomplished people. Plus, the discussion was moderated by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, an accomplished marine biologist in her own right with over 200 days in space. Thank you Jessica. Thanks also to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum for organizing and profiling this event, with many involved behind the scenes and over many months to make this happen. A good and lively discussion, I think. If you weren’t able to tune in live, the taped broadcast is available on YouTube. Go Team!

Saving Giraffe from Extinction

Ever wonder what it takes to tackle and fit a giraffe with a GPS tracking device?  As you can imagine, this is not an easy task, taking a coordinated effort from a dedicated team of individuals.  In their recent article entitled “How Can We Save Giraffes From Extinction“, Ed Yong and The Atlantic profile activities that I was able to participate in with local and international partners last September (2019).  Make sure to view the video embedded in the article which profiles the efforts of Giraffe Conservation Foundation veterinary fellow, Sara Ferguson.  Truly amazing work that’s being conducted with local organizations in Africa.  Many, many thanks to Ed for traveling with our team and writing this story about the plight of giraffe and the ongoing efforts to save them.

A male reticulated giraffe in Northern Kenya, moments after being fitted with the ossicone-mounted GPS tracking device.

COVID-19 dependent, we have a number of exciting activities planned over the next 6-8 months with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.  This includes giraffe translocations in Uganda and Niger to re-populate former strongholds of the species, and GPS tagging efforts in Kenya.

On another note, is the plural of giraffe, “giraffe” or “giraffes”?  Or the plural of hippopotamus (try saying that 5 times).  Fodder for another day I think.

Restoring Bison to the Great Plains

Just back from central Montana where I was working with the team from the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to tag bison with solar ear tags across the Sun Prairie management unit.  Amazing trip and an incredible experience to have my hands on bison.  Phenomenal to see these incredible beasts up close.  Very much looking forward to the day when we can finally say that bison are once again wild and free ranging across the Great Plains.

Getting ready to tag a young bison with a GPS solar tag.  Photo courtesy: Roshan Patel.

As part of efforts to understand how bison use the landscape, we aim to fit as many bison as possible with GPS solar tags.  All credit goes to Hila Shamon, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, that has done all the leg work to purchase the tags.

A mOOvement tag, developed to track the whereabouts of cattle.  Photo credit: Roshan Patel

Devices, developed by an Australian manufacturer (mOOvement), weigh about 30g and have been designed to track the whereabouts of cattle.  However, they can also be affixed to the ear of bison.  We have programmed the devices to collect a GPS position every hour.  Over the 4 day capture and handling procedure, we fitted 89 bison with solar ear tags.  An amazing dataset to start investigating collective movement behavior in the herd.

As you can imagine, handling bison is no simple process.  Animals must first be rounded up so that they can quickly and safely be processed.  Similar to how ranchers handle cattle, bison are pushed through a chute system.  We collected blood for disease testing and in some cases, a fecal sample.  Many thanks to the professionalism of the staff at APR.  No major injuries to man or beast throughout the week.

An aerial perspective of the capture facility. Photo courtesy: Roshan Patel

Long-term Herbivore Changes Across a Kenyan Grassland

Congratulations to Ramiro Crego and colleagues for their recent publication in Biological Conservation to describe long-term changes in herbivore occupancy and richness across the Laikipia plateau in central Kenya.  The analyses incorporates 15 years of aerial survey data, collected by Kenya’s Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS), and highlights the importance of accounting for imperfect detection in results.  As expected, ‘wildlife friendly’ properties had the highest levels of species richness.  High variability in estimates, however, suggests that some pastoral properties also support rich herbivore communities.  Some very interesting results that we hope will be influential in spatial planning across the region.  Thanks to all our co-authors on this effort.

Reintroducing One of the Rarest Antelopes on Earth

Addax are shy, cautious animals that reside in some of the harshest habitats on the planet.  A desert specialist, addax once ranged broadly across the Sahara from Morocco in the west to Egypt and the Nile Valley in the east.  Today, addax are one of the rarest antelopes on the planet, with less than 100 individuals remaining in the wild, persecuted for their hides and meat.

An adult addax, fitted with a GPS collar and ready to be reintroduced back into the wild.

One small step towards repopulating the former habitat range of the species.

With foresight from the Moroccan government and support from the Sahara Conversation Fund, Wild Africa Conservation, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, we have initiated an exciting reintroduction project in Morocco.  In late 2019, we reintroduced 20 addax to a remote area of the Sahara desert.  To facilitate long-term monitoring, 10 animals were fitted with GPS collars.  We will continue to monitor each animal with our Moroccan partners over the next few years, providing information on the movements of each animal and a measure of reintroduction success.  Looking forward to continued efforts with this team to restore this species to the wild.