Brookfield Zoo does its part in giraffe conservation



Photo courtesy of Amy Roberts

By Jocelyn Cano

As of Dec. 8, 2016, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has officially declared giraffes vulnerable for extinction, with their population declining 40 percent in the last 30 years. This decline is due to loss of habitats and illegal hunting. The Brookfield Zoo is doing their part to make sure these animals stay off of the endangered list.

“We all know about the big, mega vertebrates like rhinos and the elephants,” Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal programs for the Chicago Zoological Society, said, “where there’s international trade in ivory and rhino horn, but you don’t look at much international trade in giraffes, so it hasn’t been on the big radar as far as the general public is aware, but the fact is they’re suffering a greater decline than the rhinos and the elephants, because of poaching for meat as well as loss of habitat.”

The Giraffe Conservation foundation has named the Reticulated Giraffe the subspecies with the greatest decline in its population of about 80 percent. This means the population has gone from about 30,000 giraffes to about 5,000. This subspecies can be found at the Brookfield Zoo.

The Brookfield Zoo has been working towards giraffe conservation for some time now, but more recently has joined efforts with the Reticulated Giraffe Project in northern Kenya to provide the program with more resources, spread awareness and continue to strive towards greater giraffe conservation.

“The last two years we’ve made a significant investment in this program,” Amy Roberts, curator of mammals for the Brookfield Zoo, said, “we’re looking to not only connect the people that come to our zoo with wildlife nature but more on a global scale.”

Roberts presented the Reticulated Giraffe Project in Kenya to Zeigler in hopes of getting the Chicago Zoological Society to support and help fund the project. Roberts has flown out to the northern Kenya project site to provide the project with help and report back on what resources they can provide.

“It was a lot of driving around, a lot of watching giraffes and a lot of recording data. Identifying each individual within those groups. If you find 5 giraffes then you’re going to identify each individual giraffe through photographs. And if there is a new giraffe then you’re going to want to make sure you get photographs of both sides of their bodies so you can add them to the database. You’re going to record their location. You’re going to record what their doing and then you’re going to record the whole group’s composition. Basically just looking at it so that we can start learning the whole behavioral ecology of giraffes.”

John Doherty, the project’s coordinator, and Jacob Leaidura, a certified naturalist by the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association, run the Reticulated Giraffe Project.

“…John is apart of the national task force of Kenya to help the government of Kenya and the Kenya wildlife services develop a national giraffe strategy so they can save their own giraffes…until john started working and actually counting these animals nobody actually knew how many giraffes there were…they didn’t understand what a plummet there had in the numbers. There’s some really concrete information coming in from his studies,” Roberts said.

The Brookfield Zoo provides the Reticulated Giraffe Project with any resources they can financially provide. Last year they helped the project by funding solar powered lanterns that also allowed came with dual charging ports for their guard’s phones. The lanterns allowed for illumination at night, safety, and gave children the ability to study at night.

“We made a commitment now and we’ll continue to support giraffe conservation efforts,” Zeigler said, “and we’ll continue to bring the information to the public so they’re aware of it too. We’ll continue to look at supporting giraffe conservation however we can whether it’s in work, in research, or whether it’s funding directly to the field program.”

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