The IUCN categorizes the giraffe as “least concern”. However, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) estimates the current population at fewer than 80 000 individuals across all sub-species, with less than 12 000 South African giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). Numbers dropped considerably in the last decade, indicating that poaching, human population growth, and habitat degradation, fragmentation and loss have impacted on the giraffe’s status across the African continent.
Since 2006, the MRC has monitored the population demographics, spatial ecology, feeding ecology and social behaviour of the giraffe population on the Mogalakwena River Reserve. The giraffe population is semi-habituated and relatively easy to approach. An identikit with photographs was developed, which allows identification of individuals based on their unique pelage patterns. Students can assist the MRC with continuing this data collection to establish a long-term ecological data-set for giraffe in this arid-savannah landscape.
Giraffe social behaviour
Giraffes are social animals and often move around in herds. Students have the opportunity to study the social behaviour within and between herds. By identifying the individuals, students can determine the group composition and quantify the interactions between individuals. Students may choose one (or a combination) of the following topics for their giraffe research project on behaviour: vigilance behaviour, interactions between individuals and/or herds, composition and consistency of herds, and mating behaviour of the giraffe on the Mogalakwena River Reserve. Observations will be done on foot and methods include behavioural and scan sampling.
Giraffe feeding ecology
Giraffes browse on trees for leaves and flowers at different heights, depending on their size and status. Students will have the opportunity to collect data on the feeding ecology of our giraffe population by looking at foraging activity, diet, and feeding heights. Variation in foraging behaviour can be associated with seasons, weather conditions, habitats and sexes. Students can also study aspects of spatial ecology, habitat use, and water consumption of the giraffes on the Mogalakwena River Reserve. Observations are done on foot to observe individual foraging behaviour and/or to make activity scans of the herd.