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article imageCitizen science project will benefit Africa's giraffes

By Megan Hamilton     Sep 15, 2014 in Environment
With its' long, graceful neck and elaborately patterned hide, the giraffe is truly an iconic symbol of Africa. Like seemingly every other wild animal in the world, they are in decline.
In order to keep these large ungulates in the picture, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) is asking for help from the general public. Just not in the way most people might expect.
Oh sure the foundation accepts donations, but it's also on the lookout for citizen scientists. In cooperation with Polytechnic of Namibia has launched a project that will provide people with an online citizen science platform for giraffes.
The foundation has come up with an easy to use web-based application, Giraffe Spotter.org. With this application, people can upload their photos of giraffes they have seen, along with the location where the image was filmed and any other worthwhile information they can add to help in conservation efforts. This would include herd size, sex, and the age class of the giraffe, reports Wildlife Extra.
Citizen scientists can help GCF to better understand giraffe ranges, distribution, their numbers, and the conservation status of the various species of giraffes across Africa. GCF also hopes the project will enlighten people to help raise awareness about the plight of giraffes in the wild.
In 1999, the total number of giraffes in Africa was estimated to exceed 140,000 — some 40 percent of these magnificent animals were in or around protected areas and privatelands — and it was thought that their numbers could be maintained if they were adequately protected, the GCF notes here.
Giraffe numbers, however, have dropped considerably. Current estimates by the GCF show the population at less than 80,000 individuals across all of the giraffe subspecies. This shows that giraffes are in real danger, and this is why the organization wants to build up an accurate census of the entire population. In so doing, the organization is working closely with IUCN-affiliated groups.
Indeed, the numbers are discouraging, as this chart shows.
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Giraffe Conservation Foundation
There are nine subspecies of giraffe, and except for the Angolan, Cape, and West African giraffe, all other subspecies are either declining, or their populations are unstable, GCF reports. Like all of the other large animals in Africa, giraffes have to deal with poaching. The exploding human population, habitat loss and fragmentation, and habitat degradation are seriously impacting these unique creatures all across the continent.
Giraffes have become extinct in at least seven African countries, reports The Namibian Sun. The growing human population and the resulting habitat loss, illegal hunting and poaching are the reasons why this has happened, Steph Fenessy of the GCF told the Sun.
"Giraffe has a lot of meat and can feed plenty of people and are therefore especially hunted in war-torn countries," he said. "We are expecting to lose giraffe within the next few years in the DRC." The DRC stands for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Fenessy said that giraffes play a crucial ecological role in the environment. Because they are large browsers, giraffes open up landscapes and stop bush encroachment — something that's problematic in Namibia, the Sun reports.
"They play an extremely valuable role and are critical for the environment," Fenessy said.
Fortunately, Namibia has successfully kept giraffe population numbers growing due to conservation efforts in the country, Fenessy said.
Namibia is the only country in the world where black rhino, elephants, giraffe, and lions are increasing, either in numbers or range — and what's even more surprising is that many of the animals live outside national park boundaries, Discovery News reports.
Namibia's success is largely due to a complex system that pre-dates the country's independence from South Africa in 1990, and most specifically to legislation which was passed in 1996. Major wildlife organizations worked with tribal chiefs and headmen, and the government passed legislation that granted rural tribes and communities the same rights to wildlife as commercial farmers, per Discovery News.
Some 71 communal conservancies now cover 18 percent of the country. Plus, there's national parks, community forests, and freehold conservancies. This means that 42 percent of Namibia is under conservation management.
Discovery News reports that between 1995 and 2008, Namibia's elephant population has grown by one-third. Free-roaming lion, giraffe, and black-rhino populations are increasing, and the country now has the world's largest cheetah population.
In a continent where wildlife is constantly under siege, this is an amazing bit of good news.
More about Giraffe, Citizen science project, Africa, wildlife extra, giraffespotterorg
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