Giraffe field monitoring in Niger
A giraffe monitoring mission was carried out by the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) from 6 to 17 April, in Niger, to survey the wild population of West African Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta), subspecies of the newly classified northern giraffe species, currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red list. The aim was to monitor giraffes during the dry season and to obtain information in addition to the data collected in the rainy season - and especially to go to areas which were usually not explored (giraffes being more dispersed at this time of the year). Each giraffe observed had to be identified.
So that all the areas where the giraffes were supposed to be found would be covered, the mission lasted 11 days. The first week was spent in the south east of Niamey, especially in the region of Kouré and Falmey- an area where the giraffes were for sure known to stay. During the second part of the mission, the team went to explore the north of Niamey, around Simiri, Dingazi and Fandou.
Every member of the team had a different role; taking pictures, identifying giraffes, taking notes, recording data in the smartphone via a specific giraffe tracking application, guidance, etc.
This field mission consisted in counting the giraffes and go to any other area where they were expected to be present, using a vehicle to drive across the Dallol valley.
This mission also had the following objectives:
- Determine the distribution pattern of the giraffes during the dry season.
- Count, photograph and identify the giraffes with a focus on newborns.
- Raise awareness among local communities about giraffe conservation as well as its habitats.
The mission itinerary and the entire journey were coordinated in regard with the information we could obtain concerning the giraffe occurrence; this kind of information could be provided by official sources such as the staff of the "Direction des Eaux et Forêts", by the guide, or by locals.
Giraffes can usually be found very close to villages. The cohabitation with people is generally possible since it is not an aggressive species, but there can be issues with crops getting eaten by giraffes. In this season, they eat mangoes. Some people have protected their fields or gardens by enclosing them, or by digging holes around their lands, which giraffes cannot cross.
For every giraffe encountered, pictures of both sides were needed to identify it and complete the database as well.
With a large group, the difficulty is to identify each individual, and when the giraffes begin to move, not to confuse them.
It can be a bit tricky sometimes to take a good photo of both profiles, especially with the calves, because they get more easily scared and prefer to remain in the far distance as much as possible.
While taking the photos of the giraffe, the following information (age, sex, coat characteristics, etc.) would be written down on a paper as well as digitally.
During this monitoring mission, SCF-GCF team saw a dozen giraffe calves born in 2018 (a very encouraging number!). They are most of the time isolated from the rest of the group with their mother, since they usually move away to give birth.
The identification is made possible by the analysis and comparison of the giraffe pelage (or any other kind of distinctive sign) with photos taken in the previous years.
In this photo, showing the left-side of an adult female, all of the spots can be clearly distinguished, which allows the identification of the giraffe.
Giraffes allowed the team to get relatively close, making it easier to take photos for the identification, like with this portrait of two males. We can notice the third ossicone on the front of the two giraffes, which helps confirm their gender, since females do not have it.
Two questionnaires were prepared for the local communities so that we could have a better idea of their perceptions and interactions with giraffes. It was the first time they were circulated in the field, so they were conceived as experiments. The first questionnaire focused on the conflicts between locals and wildlife, while the second one was more specifically about the perception and interaction of people with giraffes.
All the data collected were sent to the persons in charge of their processing. Also, the feedback on the questionnaires gave a good idea of how to improve them and adapt them better to the real conditions on the ground.
This mission has allowed us to highly improve our knowledge of the giraffe population in this area. Indeed, new born giraffes were observed but we also noticed the presence of some individuals that had remained unseen for many years. It also enabled us to have a better understanding of their distribution; going to new sites greatly helped realize that some of the giraffes had also settled down in a number of remote places.