A preliminary investigation into comparative foraging ecology of reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) and domestic camels (Camelus dromedarius) in Laikipia Kenya.

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A preliminary investigation into comparative foraging ecology of reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) and domestic camels (Camelus dromedarius) in Laikipia Kenya.

For a large mammal, giraffes are surprisingly understudied, with much left unknown about their ecology. In fact a recent conference was entitled Giraffe' – The' Forgotten' Megafauna. There are several subspecies of giraffe, the exact number is still debated, but concensus seems to be growing that there are nine. Two subspecies have been formally red>listed by IUCN, and some of the other sub species are in decline. “All over Africa, giraffes are in serious decline. Some 30% may have been lost in the past 10 years alone. The principal reasons are believed to be poaching, especially for meat, and loss of habitat” (Reticulated Giraffe Project, 2011). The reticulated giraffe, inhabits northern East Africa, seems to be in trouble. Although exact population figures are unavailable, it’s estimated that they have declined more than 80% from perhaps 30,000 a decade ago to about 5,000 today. In the face of such challenges, it is ever more important to gather as much data as possible about giraffe ecology and social structures.

Domestic camels are increasing in popularity and stocking levels in many parts of East Africa due to their ability to resist drought and access browse, coupled with the developing premium market for camel milk. Laikipia is no exception to this trend, with a camel herd being introduced at Mpala ranch in 2007. Stocked in the traditional pastoralist fashion, little work has been done how domestic camel herds interact and impact their environment, the vegetation and wildlife, and whether camels are more or less sustainable than cattle or shoats in a rangeland ecosystem.

Female camels actively browse over a wide range of heights, from ground level up to 3 meters. Traditionally, due to their being browsers, their dispersal ability and elevated foraging level, giraffes have been thought to be able to coexist with traditional pastoralist livestock species, however with the introduction of the larger and taller browsing camels, could this alter the status quo, and potentially affect giraffes ability to coexist with livestock?

Due to time and budget constraints, this study gathered baseline preliminary data on the foraging ecology of camels and giraffe at Mpala ranch to try to understand whether there are indicators of overlap in their resource utilization. Data were gathered on: the foraging ecology and activity budgets of camels and giraffe in different habitats and vegetation structure, giraffe photo data to identify individuals based on neck patterning, and camel resource usage distribution through GPS collars. Additionally, by using the GPS locations of giraffe encounters, the density of giraffe at Mpala may also be elicited.

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