How the population of Masai giraffes in Arusha National Park in Tanzania has changed over 40 years

How the population of Masai giraffes in Arusha National Park in Tanzania has changed over 40 years

How the population of Masai giraffes in Arusha National Park in Tanzania has changed over 40 years

A Maasai giraffe in Arusha National Park, Tanzania. Photo credit: Wild Nature Institute

Giraffes are Tanzania’s national animal and are loved all over the world. However, despite its popularity, the Maasai giraffe’s population has declined by 50% since the 1980s to around 35,000 individuals and is now classified as endangered.

Maasai giraffes are found in Arusha National Park in northern Tanzania and are an important part of the park’s attraction as they contribute to the country’s economy. Urban development of the city of Arusha and agricultural expansion has resulted in Arusha National Park becoming increasingly isolated from other protected areas in northern Tanzania, but the current status of giraffes in the park was unknown.

In a new article published in the African Journal of EcologyScientists from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Zurich and the Wild Nature Institute have counted individual giraffes in Arusha National Park to see how well these legendary megaherbivores are doing compared to 40 years ago.

The only previously published data on Arusha National Park’s Masai giraffe population was from 1979 and 1980, 20 years after the park’s establishment. In the new paper, scientists monitored individual giraffes in Arusha National Park from 2021 to 2022 to provide an update on current population size, sex and age structure, and population movements. The giraffes were individually identified by their unique spot patterns. The scientists also collected DNA from manure samples to assess the genetic connectivity of the park’s giraffes with other giraffe populations in the region.

The scientists documented a 49% population decline — similar to the overall decline in the Maasai giraffe throughout its range in Tanzania and southern Kenya — and changes in age distribution, adult sex ratio, reproductive rate, and movement patterns compared to the previous study. Mitochondrial DNA analyzes revealed genetic connectivity between Arusha National Park and other Masai giraffe populations east of the Gregory Rift Escarpment in northern Tanzania and southeastern Kenya, providing evidence that the Masai giraffe once roamed widely across the landscape.

“Every giraffe population is important,” said Dr. Derek Lee, associate research professor at Pennsylvania State University, co-founder of the Wild Nature Institute and lead author of the study. He recommended that “Arusha National Park’s giraffe population could be helped through community conservation efforts that support Indigenous communities outside the park, strengthen local law enforcement, and provide tangible economic benefits for wildlife conservation.”

However, additional measures should be taken to secure the future of giraffes in Arusha National Park. “We don’t just have to protect individual animals,” noted Dr. George Lohay, a geneticist from Pennsylvania State University and co-author of the study. “We also need to maintain and restore habitat connectivity with other populations to maintain the necessary gene flow for genetic diversity.”

dr Monica Bond, a postdoc at the University of Zurich, co-founder of the Wild Nature Institute and senior author of the study, found that protecting giraffes also helps other animals. “Giraffes’ large body size and large space requirements make them particularly vulnerable to extinction,” she explained, “but measures to protect them will also benefit smaller species that share the same savannah habitat.”

More information:
Derek E. Lee et al., Change in Masai giraffe population over 40 years in Arusha National Park, African Journal of Ecology (2023). DOI: 10.1111/aje.13115

Provided by the Wild Nature Institute

Citation: How the Masai giraffe population has change over 40 years in Tanzania’s Arusha National Park (2023, January 20), retrieved January 20, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-01-masai-giraffe-population -years-tanzania.html

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