Rothschild’s giraffe conservation in Uganda

The Nubian giraffe, which is also called Ugandan giraffe in Uganda and Baringo giraffe in Kenya was renamed after Lionel Walter Rothschild who first described the subspecies in the early 20th century. At the time the renowned British zoologist thought that the giraffe was a single species. However, recent genetic researches according to Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), there are four distinct species of giraffes in Africa. These include the northern giraffe, reticulated giraffe, Maasai giraffe and the southern giraffe. In particular the northern giraffe is further subdivided into 3 subspecies. These include the West African giraffe which is the rarest of all with about 400 left, all in Niger, the Kordofan giraffe that’s found in Zakouma National Park in Chad which is under the management of the African Parks Network and lastly the Nubian giraffe found in eastern South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and western Kenya.

Rothchild’s giraffes in Uganda

In Uganda, Murchison Falls National Park Uganda ,has about 1,575 individuals of the Nubian giraffe which is almost 50% of Africa’s population of the subspecies. Unlike other wildlife species like buffaloes and elephants, giraffes weren’t targeted by poachers which helped their numbers to grow. Instead, poachers went after black rhinos which became extinct during the Ugandan civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s.

Rothschild’s giraffe population were mostly affected in Kidepo Valley National Park  which is situated in the semi-arid Karamoja region northeast of Uganda along the border with South Sudan and Turkan region, Kenya. About 400 individuals that lived there only 3 survived according to Uganda Wildlife Authority records by 1997. Most of the animals were poached during Idi Amin’s regime as president of Uganda from 1972 to 1979. An army barracks was established on Mount Moroto just south of the park and the hungry soldiers it’s said that they would go into the park to feed themselves with the animals’ meat.

However, most of the poaching in a report by Uganda Conservation Foundation was done by young Karamojong warriors. Since cattle are a measure of wealth and giraffe tails are considered precious and sacred, the boys who didn’t have cows to pay for bride price would poach giraffes. The tails would then be used to obtain cows or given as dowry to get a wife. Without doubt this practice was responsible for the reduction of Kidepo valley Rothschild’s giraffe population. Even worse, giraffes vanished from other protected areas in the region including Pian Upe, Matheniko and Bokoro Wildlife Reserves. The struggle for cattle between the Karamojong and other warrior tribes such as Pokot and Kelenjin fueled cattle rustling which became an armed conflict since they had acquired guns. Among other factors such as loss of land due to conservation and the recent discovery of mineral deposits are responsible for the Karamoja crisis.

Before the giraffes were wiped out of Narus valley, the Uganda Wildlife Authority carried out interventions to restore them and deploy rangers to secure the park. A partnership with Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) was formed through which 5 giraffes were to come from Lake Nakuru National Park in 1997. The park which is in the rift valley is a sanctuary for black rhinos and flamingos. The nature of terrain made it difficult to capture all the 5 and only 3 females including a male called Nakuru giraffe were flown in into Kidepo Valley National Park bringing the total to 6 at the time. After a while, the male was killed by lions in the park but mating had taken place and the females were able to bring forth offsprings. Since then, the number has been growing and there are about 60 Rothschild’s giraffes living in Kidepo today.

Enhancing conservation efforts

To ensure continuous increase and even distribution of giraffes across the savanna protected areas, the Uganda Wildlife Authority supported by Giraffe Conservation Foundation initiated conservation translocations. The giraffes were to be taken from Murchison Falls National Park where the numbers are relatively many to Lake Mburo National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park. In regard to Kidepo, the purpose was to reduce the effect of inbreeding where the animals would descend from one male Nakuru. As a result 14 giraffes were translocated from Murchison Falls to Kidepo in 2018.  A year before that, 15 giraffes were brought into Lake Mburo National Park which has now increased to 24. Within Murchison Falls itself, 19 giraffes were moved across the Nile River from northern Paara to the southern part of the park that has multiplied to 45.

Clarification on the naming: Rothschild’s or Nubian?

Taxonomists all agree that the name Nubian giraffe came first because it’s native to Africa. However, that has been replaced with the name Rothschild, referring to the person who studied the species early in the 20th century. However, this has further caused disagreements among many safari guides of East Africa as to which correct name that should be referred to. It’s apparent that the name Rothschild’s is predominantly used for the giraffes in Uganda and Kenya. But, there’s no harm when both Nubian and Rothschild’s are used interchangeably. Furthermore, there has been disagreements whether giraffes in Gambella region of southeast Ethiopia are same as Rothschild’s giraffe. Results from the genetic comparisons carried out by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation proved that the species are actually the same.

Best national parks to see giraffes in Uganda

Murchison Falls National Park

The most ideal  destination in Uganda to see the Rothschild’s giraffe is Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to 1,575 of them, representing over 50% of all Nubian giraffes in Africa. In addition, the park is home to over 451 different bird species, including the Shoebill stork, along with lions, elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and crocodiles in the Nile River. Game drives, boat trips down the Nile, and hot air balloon safaris are all options for seeing wildlife. The amazing hike to the top of the falls, though, is the highlight of any trip. There is a honeymoon trail south of the Nile River where you might see giraffes strolling past with a ranger.

Lake Mburo National Park

Located 234km (4 hours’ driving) south-west of the Entebbe airport and Kampala city, Lake Mburo National Park is one of the most easily accessed savannah parks in Uganda. When going to Bwindi  to undertake gorilla trekking , you can also take a rest from the long trip. There are 24 giraffes, and because there are no lions or elephants, it is safe for guests to wander into the African bush with a ranger. Biking is an additional option for viewing animals in Lake Mburo. Zebra and impalas are two of the 69 mammal species that can be found only here throughout all the safari destinations in the western region of Uganda.

Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo is situated 700km (11-hour drive) northeast of Kampala capital city. You can get there quickly by air with a chartered flight from Entebbe International Airport. Once there, you will be in Africa’s most picturesque park according to CNN Africa. The huge Narus valley is flanked by dry volcanic mountain ranges including Mount Murongole inhabited by IK Uganda’s smallest tribe. They are regarded as minority by the Karamojong cattle warriors whom you can visit on your trip to Kidepo. The seasonal swamps and permanent water in the valley give life to 77 mammal species. These are tree-climbing lions, leopards, Rothschild’s giraffe, elephants, buffaloes of which a single herd of over 4000 buffaloes is prominent. There are over 476 species of birds of which some are endemic to the Karamoja region including the Karamoja Apalis and the ostrich. Given that the area’s semi-arid vegetation, some of the animals in Kidepo are difficult to find in other parks. These include cheetahs, ostrich, Aard wolf, striped hyena, Bat-eared fox among others.

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