Population Structure and Spatial Ecology of Kordofan Giraffe

Congratulations to Matthias D’haen and colleagues for their new publication, published in the most recent edition of Ecology & Evolution, to highlight the rapidly declining population of Kordofan giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum) across the Garamba complex in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the last remaining populations of the species in the wild.  Estimated at 45 individuals throughout the Garamba complex, populations of Kordofan giraffe have declined by more than 85% over the last three decades.

This research focuses on the isolated, easternmost population of the species, providing an assessment of changes in the population over time based on aerial surveys, the spatial distribution, and home range. Looking forward to next steps!

Location of Garamba National Park and adjacent Hunting Reserves, Democratic Republic of Congo.  Figure also shows the range map of all giraffe (sub)species.  Source: Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Understanding the Spatial Requirements of Reticulated Giraffe

Excited about the progress made this week with partners Giraffe Conservation Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global, and the Kenya Wildlife Service, to fit 25-30 reticulated giraffe with satellite transmitters.  So far, we have fitted 12 tracking devices on animals across Laikipia and Samburu counties in northern Kenya, with no injuries to report.  All animals got back on their feet quickly after being processed by the team.  Across this region, less than 5% of the habitat of this species is formally protected, with reticulated giraffe declining by about 50% over the past 30 years.  We hope to collect many years of data on the movements of these individuals, providing the basis for an improved scientific understanding of the species’ habitat requirements that will hopefully be used to inform policy across the region.

The team is now headed further north to capture the remaining animals, requiring the use of a helicopter to efficiently find and tag individuals.  Immense landscapes up here.  Looking forward to seeing the data we’re receiving and further engagement with the team.  Seeing these giraffe face to face has been truly amazing!  Can’t wait for next steps.

An adult reticulated giraffe, fitted with a satellite tracking device on its ossicone and providing near real-time information on its movements on an hourly temporal interval.


Gearing Up for Giraffe Collaring

After over a year delay, its nearly time to return to Kenya with partners from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global, and Kenya Wildlife Service to fit 25-30 reticulated giraffe with solar powered GPS transmitters. We’ll be working across the Laikipia Plateau to increase our sample size from n = 11 individuals and provide a better understanding of the space use and movements of these endangered animals.  Along our way, we will be accompanied by Ed Yong, author of “I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life” and journalist at The Atlantic, to increase awareness of the plight of giraffes and the complexities to conserving them.  Should be an exciting two weeks.

Very much looking forward to moving this initiative forward and hopeful to have many pictures to share.

A TOWER of giraffe!  No, for real, that’s the proper term for a group of giraffes.

Counting large mammals from drones

Ever wonder what a bison looks like from 100 meters altitude?  This image was taken from a DJI drone during field activities at the American Prairie Reserve in Montana last month, part of ongoing efforts to develop automatic tools to accurately count large mammals.  Beyond a total count, we’re also interested in quantifying the total number of calves, juveniles, and adults in each image, something that is extremely useful to monitor population growth.  If you look closely, you can see the calves, which have an orange tint, are smaller than the other animals in the image, and often found next to their mothers.  Much harder is differentiating sex in the juveniles.  Some of the large males, however, are relatively easy to identify and there are a few big boys in the image.  One of these large males can be seen “wallowing” near the center of the image, a characteristic of bison and how they re-shape the ecosystem, providing improved habitat for a variety of other species.

I count 46 individuals in this image, inclusive of 6 calves.  We’ll see if the computer agrees!

Image collected from a DJI Mavic Pro 2 at 100 meters across the Sun Prairie management unit in the American Prairie Reserve, Montana.

Geographic range of giraffe updated

Congratulations to David O’Connor and colleagues for their recent publication in Mammal Review which updates the known distribution of giraffe species across the African continent.  Lot’s of changes due to improved data that will ultimately help to inform and target conservation efforts.  Looking forward to next steps with San Diego Zoo Global and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation as we gear up to collar 25 reticulated giraffe across the northern rangelands in Kenya.

Updated geographic range maps for giraffe in sub‐Saharan Africa. Ranges are shown as filled coloured polygons for each species. The dashed outlines show the previously recognised IUCN range for each taxon (Giraffe Conservation Foundation 2016, Muller et al. 2018). The cross‐hatched areas are where giraffe populations are not confirmed, but possibly do occur. Figure from O’Connor et al. 2019.


Integrating animal movement data into conservation decision making

Just back from a workshop in Tanzania, working with colleagues from the University of Glasgow to integrate animal movement data into assessments of the likely effects of infrastructure development projects on wildlife. There is concern across many regions in Africa where these projects are occurring, although little engagement with the scientific community in how data can be incorporated into development plans. The meeting was attended by individuals from 8 different African nations, with data on the movements of elephant, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, wild dog, kob, Tiang, and lion.

Check out this big old fella, giving me the stink eye!

Along the way, we also got to see loads of wildlife in Tarangire National Park, near where our workshop at the Ecoscience Center was hosted. The rains were yet to arrive, so wildlife was concentrated in the park, providing some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. Lot’s of elephants and zebra…even a few wildebeest, buffalo, and lion!

Railway underpass extends migration distance in Tibetan antelope

Animal crossings are designed to mitigate barrier effects of transportation infrastructure on wildlife movement.  However, many crossings are not placed in optimal locations and may not take into account the animals’ natural movement patterns.  Our study, published in PLOS One, calculates the additional distance that Tibetan antelope must travel in order to move across an ecosystem that has been bisected by a railway.  Our study suggests that the crossing location can prolong the migration distance of these antelope by >80 km. To better conserve long-distance migration, we advocate for the need for long-term studies to assess wildlife movement prior to the establishment of these anthropogenic barriers.

Graphs shows the distance between modeled migration routes and satellite derived locations of Tibetan antelope.

Dominant grazers

Wildebeest, often described as a cross between the body of an antelope,  the tail of a horse, and the head of a buffalo, are vastly important to ecosystem diversity.   Since the 1960s, the population of migratory wildebeest across the Serengeti wildebeest has remained relatively stable (~1.3 million individuals) after recovery from the virus rinderpest.  At the same time, other “non-migratory” individuals, like those across the Mara and Loita Plains have declined precipitously.  In some areas, as much as 98%.  The concern from ecologists globally is the long-term sustainability of these populations.  I continue to track individuals in these populations with partners to better understand how they’re responding to rapid changes and hopefully, provide scientifically-based information to make informed decisions.

Wildebeest grazing across the Mara ecosystem

Reports from researchers indicate that the historic migration has been disrupted this year.  It’s unclear why, but potential factors include fires in Tanzania or shifts in resources, which can make migration non-advantageous.  The attached picture shows members of the population that did migrate, grazing across the Mara Plains in the Olare Orok Conservancy.  Go “Beests”!

Greater Mara Ecosystem

This magnificent male leopard (“Chui” in Swahili) allowed us to visit with him for a few hours.

Just back from a few important meetings in the Greater Mara ecosystem.  We’re discussing ways to combat the increased rate of fencing across the region, with an emphasis on using movement data to inform conservation priorities.  Importantly, we are aiming to identify important migratory corridors to determine which parcels of land need to be purchased to maintain habitat connectivity.

Following the meeting, we had dinner with Nick Lapham and Alan Earnshaw in the Naboisho conservancy to discuss potential collaborations.  Along the way, we stopped to see a male leopard relaxing in the tall grass.  The following day we came across a family of cheetah, a mother and four cubs.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

Two siblings playing in the morning sun, Naboisho conservancy.


After many months, we launched our helikite today at our campus in Front Royal.  A patented combination of a helium balloon and a kite, the platform was amazing stable in the air stream.  This poor-man’s satellite will be equipped with a powerful digital camera to provide high-resolution imagery of specific areas of interest.  We’re aiming to use the technology to remotely identify and count wildlife on the ground.  In August, we’ll do some live tests of the platform at our research site in the American Prairie Reserve in Montana.  Then, it’s off to various sites globally.  Looking forward to the images we download off the camera tomorrow.

A patented combination of a helium balloon and a kite, we are aiming to use this platform to monitor wildlife.