The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is well known for its grassland and savanna animal populations. Less well known is that Serengeti giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) populations have seen significant declines, despite predictions that they should be increasing. The giraffe is an important actor in African savanna ecosystems because it is one of only two herbivores that feed on trees above three meters high. A continued decline in giraffes may have serious ecosystem level consequences.
Although giraffes have been classified since 1996 as “lower risk/conservation dependent” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the International Giraffe Working Group suggests that giraffe numbers have declined by as much as 30% over the past decade. A recent genetic analysis also suggests that there may be six separate species of giraffe, instead of the single species that is currently recognized. In light of these findings, new status assessments of giraffes are needed.
This study by a University of Minnesota graduate student aims to assess the conservation status of the Serengeti giraffe population, identify the factors regulating the giraffe population, and reevaluate the role of the giraffe in ecosystem dynamics. Tony Fisher, Collections Manager at Minnesota Zoo, championed this project.