Monday, 12 August 2013

Rothschild giraffe research kicks off in Uganda

Murchison’s Falls National park at the centre of new Rothschild giraffe research effort

A new research project is being launched in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park to research, document and perform genetic analysis on the Rothschild’s giraffe, the tallest creature on earth, dapper in white knee socks (no spotting on the lower leg), and notable for its grace, winsomeness and beautiful patterning. Of the nine recognized giraffe sub-species, the Rothschild’s is one of the most imperilled, with fewer than 1100 individuals remaining in the wild. It has been declared an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and as being of high conservation priority. Murchison Falls National Park is home to the last endemic population of this once abundant animal, all other surviving populations have been reintroduced, and often in areas where they never were originally.

The project is spearheaded by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and will be led by their conservation scientist Dr. Julian Fennessy, a Namibia-based Australian who is also Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group (GOSG), and fellow GCF trustees and researchers Andy Tutchings, a Germany-based British national and Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, and Stephanie Fennessy, a Namibia-based German, both also members of the GOSG. Working closely with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, the team’s local-based researcher will be Henry Opio from the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre.

Despite low population figures and its endangered status, little is known about the Rothschild’s giraffe in the wild, an issue that must be addressed to develop and implement effective conservation strategies. To this end, the Project seeks to provide the first scientific review of the Rothschild’s ecology, behaviour and habitat requirements in Uganda; essential information for the development and implementation of meaningful conservation initiatives. These include the provision of technical support and funding, data sharing and results for a comprehensive approach to giraffe conservation.

The group will be hosted by Marasa Africa at their Paraa Safari Lodge located near the Nile crossing inside the Murchison Falls National Park. Located high on the river bank the lodge overlooks one of nature’s best kept secrets, the River Nile, on its journey from its source at Lake Victoria to join Lake Albert. It is inside the park where it is suddenly channelled into a gorge only six meters wide, and cascades down the rocks into a white water inferno 48 meters below. When standing on top of the falls the earth literally trembles as one is only a few feet away from one of the world’s most powerful flows of water.
For the last stage of the initial data collection the research team will move to the Chobe Safari Lodge widely known in Uganda for its Giraffe sightings close to the lodge. Located in the Murchison Falls National Park, this Five Star lodge is undoubtedly the gem in Uganda's crown of tourism destinations. The breath-taking panoramic views, coupled with the sounds of the River Nile's magnificent rapids, sets the scene for an adventure that will impress even the most discerning of visitors.
Chobe Safari Lodge offers a unique opportunity to sample the wildlife, birds, flora and fauna; all in an area of the park that has yet to be discovered. This area of Murchison Falls National Park is ideal for fishing, and will revive this newly refurbished lodge to become one of the best fishing destinations in Africa.
Information regarding the project from Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF)

Once free ranging across western Kenya, southern Sudan and Uganda, the Rothschild’s giraffe has been almost totally eliminated from much of its former range. Despite the low and steadily declining figures across all Rothschild’s giraffe populations, there has never been any scientific study of the Rothschild’s giraffe in Uganda and its natural range – even though this (sub)species is heavily represented in captivity internationally. In Kenya, all known wild populations of Rothschild’s giraffe have been extirpated by agricultural development with remnant populations now confined to national parks, private reserves and other protected areas where they have been trans located. These remaining populations are isolated from one another and unable to interbreeding.

The vulnerability of the Rothschild’s giraffe is highlighted by recent phylogenetic studies. There is considerable uncertainty surrounding the geographic and taxonomic limits of giraffe (sub)species, but it has preliminarily determined that G. c. rothschildi is separate and distinct from other giraffe (sub)species, having split from other giraffe around 0.27 million years ago. The Rothschild’s giraffe therefore represents a unique genetic lineage that should be afforded the highest priority for conservation of giraffe biodiversity, in particular the only natural and viable population in Murchison Falls National Park.

The programme will begin in the field in August 2013 although considerable desktop research and development has already begun. It aims to establish a long-term research initiative in Uganda coordinated by local Ugandan researchers in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and GCF:

·         To develop the first long-term research initiative on the only natural and viable Rothschild’s giraffe population.

·         To provide the first ever scientific review and country-wide status assessment of Rothschild’s giraffe in Uganda.

·         To collect giraffe DNA material for on-going genetic analysis and research of the giraffe species.

To identify the key ecological requirements of the Rothschild’s giraffe in Murchison Falls National Park so that new areas can be identified as recommendations for future translocation and establishment of new populations.

To provide scientific input and support to the development of a national conservation strategy for Rothschild’s giraffe in Uganda in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

For more information on the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), go to: . For information about Marasa Africa or reservations at Paraa Safari Lodge or Chobe Safari Lodge, contact or go to their website at

If you’re interested in arranging a Safari to the region contact