From the Desk of Dan Ashe

Standing Tall for Giraffe

What better day to celebrate the giraffe than June 21st- the longest day of the year? World Giraffe Day, falling on the same day as the summer solstice, raises awareness and funding for conservation initiatives benefitting wild giraffe. It also gives us the chance to highlight the tremendous care giraffe receive at AZA-accredited facilities.

Giraffe are beloved by the general public, but not everyone realizes the disastrous impacts that poaching and habitat destruction have had on wild populations over the last few years. Giraffe populations have decreased by 40% over the last three decades, with the animals now locally extinct in 7 African countries. Giraffe were recently reclassified as a species of “least concern” to “vulnerable” to extinction on the IUCN Red List, a Smithsonian Magazine article reported, suffering from what the Giraffe Conservation Foundation termed a “silent extinction.” However, AZA and its members have been listening, and will continue to respond with conservation action.

AZA members contributed nearly $1,000,000 to giraffe conservation between 2014 and 2016 alone. In 2017, AZA announced that giraffe would be the first fully member-driven species program within AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction®. Under the leadership of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, 17 of our AZA-accredited facilities are engaging in collaborative projects to protect the world’s tallest land mammal, and now this species will benefit from the coordinated conservation and focused efforts SAFE provides.

The SAFE Giraffe program is supporting and providing expertise for critical conservation fieldwork in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.  In August 2017, 19 Nubian giraffe were moved across the Nile River in Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP), as part of the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s giraffe population management strategy. This translocation was possible with funding support from multiple AZA facilities and veterinary support from some of the top zoos: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Now, almost one year later, giraffe have been born at two reintroduction sites! Another translocation is planned for this August, again benefitting from funding and technical support from AZA SAFE partners.

Photo of Operation TWIGA giraffe translocation in Uganda, 2017 provided by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Operation TWIGA II giraffe translocation project in Uganda, 2017. Photo: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

San Diego Zoo and Saint Louis Zoo, long-time leaders in giraffe conservation, have engaged citizen scientists all over the world in tracking and monitoring giraffe in northern Kenya. Through Wildwatch Kenya, members of the public can help researchers identify and catalogue thousands of photos taken by San Diego Zoo’s motion-activated cameras - all from their home computers. In January 2018, the Great Grevy’s (and Giraffe) Rally in northern Kenya brought together in-country partners and staff from Saint Louis Zoo, Disney, San Diego Zoo Global, Oklahoma City Zoo, Zoo Miami, Sacramento Zoo, and Lion Country Safari, to collect over 100,000 photographs of wild zebra and giraffe. It’s just one of the ways our AZA members are heightening public awareness to the “silent extinction.”

AZA and its members are not alone. AZA facilities are proud partners with other organizations and local communities and seek to understand the human dimensions of the threats facing giraffe. The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens has been supporting community-based education programs in Tanzania. Next week the Tanzanian government will be having its first meeting to identify and prioritize giraffe conservation in their country. This is something that the AZA community helped make happen, thanks to funding support from eight Giraffe SAFE partner zoos. In Uganda, the Oregon Zoo is facilitating workshops for teachers and students to promote environmental sustainability and nature education.

Dedicated animal care professionals at AZA-accredited facilities are pioneering advanced veterinary techniques to provide giraffe at our zoos the highest quality of care and welfare.  The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and Greenville Zoo, for example, created a National Giraffe Plasma Bank to provide life-saving giraffe plasma to newborn giraffe requiring blood transfusions. SAFE Giraffe partner zoos are collaborating to investigate the causes and potential treatments for Giraffe Skin Disease in both Uganda and Tanzania, and researching ways to improve field anesthesia safety. Many AZA zoo giraffe are now trained for things like voluntary hoof trims and blood draws, which helps staff manage their care.

Giraffe Recieves a Hoof Trim from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff
Giraffe receives a hoof trim from animal care professionals. Photo: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Today, AZA and I are encouraging all of our members to #standtallforgiraffe. I hope you will stand tall with us to raise conservation awareness and give voice to this important cause.

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