Why are giraffes tracked?
Giraffes are one of the most recognizable large mammals on earth yet we know very little about their biology and conservation needs. This is because giraffes and in part due to their anatomy have not been very good candidates for collaring until recently. Therefore, recent advancements in technology have allowed us to track these unique animals in an effort to understand their movements and habitat use. For example, we are asking basic questions like what are their home range sizes (how do they move and utilize their landscape), how do they select resources and share the landscape with humans (what type of habitat do they depend on) and ultimately what are the drivers of their decline and how these threats interact to affect giraffe populations? Some of the contemporary threats facing giraffes include poaching, bushmeat trade, diseases, habitat loss and climate change. Through this scientific process, we are able to understand the conservation needs of giraffes and deduce from the data how best to save them from extinction. This will certainly contribute to their monitoring and the long-term recovery in their native range in eastern Kenya.
How are giraffes tracked?
Like other animals, giraffes are darted from a distance either from a vehicle or a helicopter by an experienced veterinarian with an immobilization drug. The team then waits for about 8 minutes or so to allow the drug to take effect. Following this, our team made up of specialized capture team and community rangers goes in with ropes and tightly puts around the giraffes forelimbs to help it gently fall to the ground. Once the animal is recumbent, the head of a giraffe is restrained and held down at all times and the eyes blindfolded. It is during this time that we put the tag at the tail of the giraffe, which is now sending back hourly GPS locations via satellite to our team daily.
During this period, we also take body measurements and other vitals such blood, hair samples among others depending on the specific research needs. This process is very quick and lasts less than 5-10 minutes. Then the animal is revived and released.
Does tracking harm giraffes?
Giraffe research historically has lagged behind compared to other large mammals and this is because typical collars that we put on the neck of animals do not fit to giraffes well as they slide right off when the animal bends particularly when drinking water or during browsing. Recently, scientists have tried to figure out the best way to put tags on giraffes. Initial trials recommended putting solar powered tags on the ossicones of giraffes but this generated controversy and were discontinued. More recently, this has changed to putting the same tags to the tail of giraffes and this has been shown not to harm the giraffe at all. These very light solar powered devices do not affect the animal in terms of their behavior or health and are the safest way to track giraffes currently.