GPS Tracking Being Used on Giraffe for Species Conservation

26 Jul 2017

Giraffes have long, elegant necks. You’d expect that these would be perfect for attaching GPS trackers to. But, not so. The collars fall right off when the animals lean down to take a drink. Partners and scientists from Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) are trying out a new collar design to combat this problem.

GPS collars were secured around the ossicones (the horn-like structures on top of the heads) of 11 reticulated giraffes in Kenya back in June 2017. These are reporting back hourly information with regards to their location on a daily basis. The Friends of the National Zoo’s Conservation Nation program are funding the GPS trackers with the support of donors.

The study brings together various bodies. Namely, San Diego Zoo Global, SCBI’s Conservation Ecology Center, Senckenberg BiK-F, Smithsonian’s Global Health Program, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya Wildlife Services, Loisaba Conservancy, Giraffe Conservation Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands Trust.

The researchers are looking for answers to many questions such as what are the biggest threats to giraffe’s survival, where do they regularly go, how far do they travel and more. They’re also looking at the potential causes of the newly emerged giraffe skin disease. They need to know how it’s spread and how the skin of an infected animal compares with that of one that’s not infected.

Very little is known about giraffe ecology. The team hope to gain an understanding of giraffe movements. They’re looking to find out what their home range sizes are in northern Kenya and how far they tend to move. They’re focusing on whether potential changes in the surrounding environments might block some movement routes. The scientists also want to understand whether giraffe habitats differ during the dry and wet seasons with a view to figuring out how they can best be protected.

Giraffes haven’t been studied much, although they’re very popular animals. However, this has changed in the past ten years or so. There are the problems with the GPS collars to take into account too. To combat the issue with collars slipping off in the past, head units and ones that were similar to dog harnesses were used. However, these restricted eating and movement and had to be removed.

Giraffes are in rapid decline. It’s hoped that this study will help save the species from potential extinction.

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