Tracking an Angolan giraffe in Namibia. (Photo Credit: Mike Kock)

Tracking an Angolan giraffe in Namibia. (Photo Credit: Mike Kock)

The third Giraffe Indaba, a dedicated conference on the conservation and management of giraffe, and also their closest relatives, okapi, in in the wild, will be held from Sunday 23 to Friday 28 August 2015 at the Southern African Wildlife College in Hoedspruit, South Africa.

The Giraffe Indaba is the third of its kind, organized and hosted by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and the IUCN SSC Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group (GOSG). It will once again bring together top international giraffe and okapi experts involved in research, management and conservation from across the world to discuss, debate and plan for the future of these iconic species. Presentations and discussions will take place under the overarching theme: Sticking our Necks out for Giraffe Conservation in Africa. As giraffids still do not feature prominently on the conservation hit list, it is about time to draw more attention to the continuous decrease in giraffe and okapi numbers and range across the continent.

Giraffe numbers have plummeted from a little more 140,000 in the late 1990s to less than 80,000 today, whilst okapi numbers are thought to have halved in the same period. Sadly, giraffe have become extinct in at least seven African countries over the last century. These dramatic losses have gone largely unnoticed. The main threats to both species are habitat loss and fragmentation, and human population growth with associated impacts such as disease and illegal hunting/poaching.

Researchers warn that immediate action must be taken to secure the future of both giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and okapi (Okapia johnstoni) before it is too late. Already two giraffe subspecies as well as the okapi are listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List and a new review is likely to add a few more giraffe subspecies as well as the giraffe as a species to this precarious list.

Desnaring a giraffe. (Photo Credit: South Luangwa Conservation Society)

Desnaring a giraffe. (Photo Credit: South Luangwa Conservation Society)

The Southern African Wildlife College forms part of the contractual park with the Kruger National Park, which in turn forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP). It offers a prime location for discussing the many conservation and management issues facing giraffe and okapi across the African continent.

The Giraffe Indaba III programme contains scientific and conservation presentations and posters on a range of issues from across their range in Africa and the captive world, including giraffe and okapi ecology, population dynamics, taxonomy, social structure, foraging behaviour, conservation management, and veterinary medicine. Additionally, it includes a dedicated workshop session on giraffe conservation and management strategies in Africa with a hope to discuss how best to formulate a framework strategy for giraffe across Africa. As important, Giraffe Indaba III will provide a setting for networking amongst fellow giraffid experts during the week. Keynote speakers include Dr Sam Ferreira, Specialist Scientist, South African National Parks and Ms Theresa Sowry, CEO of Southern African Wildlife College. Delegates will also have the opportunity to see South Africa’s giraffe and other wildlife on game walks and drives in the greater Kruger National Park.

A special thank you goes to the Leiden Conservation Foundation and Giraffe Conservation Foundation for their invaluable financial and in-kind support for Giraffe Indaba III.

The IUCN SSC Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group (GOSG) has taken the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting at the same venue just before the Indaba begins. Key issues will be discussed such as the current status and review of the IUCN Red List status for giraffe and okapi, current and future genetics and taxonomy of both species, and the development of a conservation framework strategy for giraffe in Africa. The IUCN SSC GOSG with support from GCF is currently conducting the first-ever detailed assessment of giraffe as a species as well as all its nine subspecies, and it is expected that by early-mid 2016 most, if not all subspecies, may end up in one of the IUCN Red List threatened categories.

Observing a giraffe. (Photo Credit: Zambia Carnivore Project)

Observing a giraffe. (Photo Credit: Zambia Carnivore Project)

Dr Julian Fennessy, Executive Director of GCF and Co-Chair for giraffe of the IUCN SSC GOSG, adds, “The Giraffe Indaba is a special opportunity for us giraffe and okapi experts to come together and talk shop about all things giraffe and okapi. GCF is excited to again host and facilitate this event on behalf of the conservation community. We have dedicated full week to giraffids and l hope that by the end of it all of us delegates will be inspired to stick their necks out a little further for giraffe conservation in Africa!”

Dr Noëlle Kümpel, IUCN SSC GOSG Co-Chair and okapi expert at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), comments, “We’re looking forward to a dedicated okapi session at the Indaba this year, where GOSG members will be reporting on progress towards the first-ever okapi conservation strategy.  This includes surveys in the hard-to-access forests of the okapi’s range in Democratic Republic of Congo, DNA analysis of okapi dung to shed light on their evolutionary history, support for conservation on the ground by the international captive okapi community and efforts to eject illegal miners and restore conservation activities in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, stronghold for the species.”

Theresa Sowry, CEO of the Southern African Wildlife College comments, “We are really looking forward to holding the upcoming Giraffe Indaba at SAWC, within South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park. Our College thrives on excellence and the ability to meet and collaborate with the world’s giraffe experts helps to build our knowledge, as well as share experiences with our staff and students – all fitting with SAWC objectives. This is the first ever large giraffe meeting in South Africa, and we are proud to host it at a time when giraffe conservation issues, along with others in Africa, are receiving such international attention.”

Collaring an Angolan giraffe in Namibia. (Photo Credit: Mike Kock)

Collaring an Angolan giraffe in Namibia. (Photo Credit: Mike Kock)

Gregory Edwards, Chairman of the Trustees of Giraffe Conservation Foundation: “On behalf of the Board of Trustees of GCF, I wish to welcome everyone to this bi-annual gathering in South Africa under the theme “sticking our necks out for giraffe conservation”. Since we gathered two years ago, the complexity of the conservation landscape means that everyone has a role to play in finding solutions. I am thrilled that a growing collection of individuals and organisations across Africa and abroad are working hard to ensure the long-term survival of giraffe in the wild. I would also like to take this opportunity to call on the South African government to work towards the creation of a national giraffe conservation strategy, modelled on the successful best practices already implemented in other African countries where population numbers are now increasing.  The South African giraffe, with only 17,000 left in the wild, is one of several battle grounds in determining what a long term sustainable conservation mix could look like.”

Giraffe and okapi are the only living species in the Giraffidae family and share a number of common features, such as elongated necks and long, dark-coloured tongues. The giraffe is found in savannah regions of 21 countries across sub-Saharan Africa while okapi are restricted to the dense, lowland rainforests of central and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

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