Giraffe (Giraffa spp.) numbers and distribution have shown dramatic decline (>30%) over the past 30 years. A century ago, the population size in the wild was estimated at >1 million individuals. At present, there are approximately 117, 000 individuals remaining, of which 50% are throughout southern Africa. This rapid decline is mainly thought to be due to habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, and sporadic poaching and civil unrest ravaging many African countries. As a result of this decline, giraffe was listed as “Vulnerable” in 2016 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, in southern Africa – and in isolated populations elsewhere in the continent – giraffe populations are flourishing. With positive growth in southern Africa, the opportunity to explore reintroduction of giraffe back into areas where they were formerly locally extinct is now feasible. This study investigated the feasibility of reintroducing giraffe back to Iona National Park (NP), Angola where it is locally extinct.
The feasibility of reintroducing giraffe was investigated using giraffe habitat use in northwest Namibia as a proxy to identify the extent of similar suitable habitat for giraffe in neighbouring Iona NP. In particular,
the study focused on giraffe spatial home range requirements, important forage species, human receptiveness and potential risks. The overall home range of the tagged giraffe in northwest Namibia was estimated at 1,095.9 (± 763.0) km2 using 95% MCP method and 423.2 (± 373.7) km2, 50% MCP core area. Species richness of the preferred giraffe species was higher (57%) in Iona NP compared to northwest Namibia (43%). The same was for woody species Shannon_H diversity (3.22) in Iona NP compared to northwest Namibia (2.89) current giraffe range. In Iona NP, riverbeds and undulating valleys will offer giraffe year-round, predominantly evergreen forage species such as Boscia, Euclea, Maerua, Salvadora and Tamarix. The ecology of giraffe in northwest Namibia indicate that they survive independent of water and largely avoid human settlements, yet they utilise a large area to maintain their needs. Furthermore, communities living in Iona NP and its peripheral areas indicated positive views on a potential giraffe reintroduction represented by 98% of the interviewed individuals. Small-scale poaching of wildlife does occur, therefore any giraffe reintroduced would require monitoring, especially if they move close to villages. This study concluded that ecologically and socially Iona NP is suitable for the reintroduction of
giraffe, and conservation planners and managers should look to move forward with such a valuable conservation initiative.