Giraffe Conservation

Giraffe on a savannah landscape.

Giraffes were once widespread across much of sub-Saharan Africa but now face considerable threats to a sustainable future in the wild. Because giraffes occupy diverse habitats, land-use systems and sociopolitical environments, they face many challenges. Conservation Ecology Center researchers are working collaboratively with a growing network of NGOs, academics, and range-state governments to address key gaps in knowledge and to develop science-based solutions for giraffe conservation across Africa.

Giraffe Population Monitoring

To design and implement effective conservation strategies, researchers first need to understand the population size and distribution of giraffes across Africa. Aerial surveys are a useful tool for rapidly assessing how many giraffes live in a large area. Working with local organizations and using cutting-edge analytical approaches, CEC researchers help provide this critical data. They want to know how land-use and human infrastructure, such as fencing, might impact giraffe distribution and connectivity across multiple-use landscapes, or areas where people and wildlife coexist.

A group of rangers stand in the bed of a small truck and observe a giraffe that stands in the tall grasses in the distance
Giraffes have unique spot patterns, like fingerprints, that researchers can use to monitor thousands of individuals. By conducting photographic surveys over time, researchers can track the movement, social dynamics, survival and reproduction of entire populations of giraffes. Using computer vision and pattern recognition software, scientists rapidly process thousands of images to provide data that informs conservation. CEC is collaborating with other organizations to develop shared platforms for processing and cataloguing data from these photographic surveys across Africa.
A giraffe stands in a grassy area among trees and shrubs
Giraffes have unique spot patterns, like fingerprints, that researchers can use to monitor thousands of individuals. This giraffe in this image from December 2017 was re-sighted over time via photographic surveys.
A giraffe walking through a grassy landscape near leafy trees
This photo of the same giraffe was taken in December 2018.
A giraffe stands in a grassy area among trees and shrubs
The giraffe was spotted again in photographs taken in March 2019.
A giraffe stands in an open grassy area
The giraffe was re-sighted in this photograph captured in December 2019.

Studying Giraffe Movement

Giraffes live in a wide range of habitats, from the extremely dry deserts of northwest Namibia and the mesic savannahs (with sparse trees and moderate moisture) of northwest Uganda to the semi-arid scrub of northern Kenya and Sahel of Niger. One of the flagship components of this conservation program is the Twiga Tracker, an ambitious, continental-scale study of giraffes' spatial ecology and movement decisions across these diverse habitats. Over four years, a network of researchers led by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation equipped giraffes with GPS units to track their movements in nine countries. More than 200 giraffes, encompassing all giraffe species, are now equipped with the specially designed GPS units.

A giraffe wearing a specially designed GPS tracking unit attached to its ossicone (horn-like protrusion))
Specially designed GPS units, like the one pictured here, enable researchers to track giraffes and monitor their habitat use in real time.

Researchers can also use data on giraffe movement patterns to identify key resources and habitat features throughout their range. Using cutting-edge geospatial analyses, Conservation Ecology Center researchers are learning how animals navigate their environments and how different landscape features can impact their patterns of space-use.

The volume of data collected from these GPS units requires specialized data management systems, so scientists are developing platforms that will allow local collaborators to process data and visualize giraffe locations in real-time.

The colored dots represent the movements of giraffes tracked using GPS units in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park from November 2018 to January 2019.

The strength of this initiative is rooted in international collaboration and knowledge sharing. Drawing from a range of scientific disciplines, researchers incorporate the latest perspectives on ecology, human dimensions, wildlife health and genetics into a holistic understanding of giraffe conservation science. Through a series of symposia, they are developing ambitious research agendas to provide the knowledge required to conserve giraffes in rapidly changing environments.

This project is a collaboration with Giraffe Conservation Foundation as well as local governments and organizations within giraffe range states that help turn science into conservation action.

Continue Exploring

Changing Landscapes Initiative

Smithsonian scientists work alongside community members in Northwestern Virginia to evaluate the impacts of land-use change on wildlife, ecosystem services and community health.

Coral Biobank Alliance

Smithsonian scientists are part of the Coral Biobank Alliance, a global network of coral experts preserving corals for restoration and research.

Coral Species Cryopreserved with Global Collaborators​

View a list of the coral species that have been cryopreserved using a technique developed by Smithsonian scientists.

Wildebeest Conservation

Conservation Ecology Center scientists are tracking the movements of white-bearded wildebeest to understand how changes across the landscape impact the species.

Protecting Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes

In 2022, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center will begin a new research project to help protect endangered piping plovers from predation by merlins.

Swift Fox Recovery

Smithsonian scientists, in collaboration with the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department, are embarking on a five-year swift fox reintroduction project to restore swift foxes to tribal lands and to help reestablish connectivity between disjointed swift fox populations.

Conserving the World’s Largest Working Wetland

Conservation Ecology Center researchers are collaborating with institutions in Brazil and other Smithsonian colleagues to support sustainable cattle ranching in the Pantanal wetland.