South African giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa) have been introduced as an extralimital species to private farms in the Little Karoo on the basis of economic sustainability, and the need to create a competitive tourism product. However, little is known about the medium- to long-term impacts and ecological sustainability of such introductions. The diet of a population of giraffe on Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, near the town of Ladismith, was assessed via direct observations between January and October 2014, in order to determine their potential impact on the world’s most species-rich semi-desert, the Succulent Karoo. Unlike giraffe in their native range, the Sanbona population showed seasonal preference for browse species. Acacia karroo (sweet thorn) appears to be the preferred browse species during autumn and spring, with Schotia afra being the preferred species in winter, and no significant preference being shown in summer. Giraffe also appeared to seasonally move between catchments where tree species other than A. karroo occurs, especially during winter and spring when the tributaries of the Brak River, containing mixed Acacia with S. afra (karoo boer-bean) and Euclea undulata (small-leaved guarri), were visited with increasing frequency. These results largely confirm the importance of A. karroo as the main browse species in this environment but also suggest that other species may be important components of the diet of extralimital giraffe in the Little Karoo. On farms where A. karroo is dominant, supplementary feed may be needed when A. karroo browse is unavailable due to leaf drop.
Conservation implications: Acacia karroo was the main browse species of extralimital G. c. giraffa at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, but it switched to S. afra during winter. This suggests that an assessment of alternative food species forms part of suitability assessments for the introduction of extralimital G. c. giraffa for areas similar to Sanbona.