The rains have delayed this season. Usually, by this time of the year, the skies are dark with near daily billowing storm clouds. Instead, they are dark with the migrating Abdim’s stork, which spiral above in the hundreds. Taking advantage of the delayed onset of the rainy season, we easily maneuvered the terrain in our Landcruiser. Without the long grasses to obscure warthog holes and termite mounds and without the muddy waters filling the luggas, the off-road driving is relatively simple, making surveys and behavioral observations an unobstructed endeavor.
This particular field season was busy for the research programme in Uganda. In addition to the annual population census, DNA sampling and collaring in Kidepo Valley National Park (outlined in the Kidepo Valley Field Report), we also conducted our seasonal demographic surveys and resource selection studies to better understand the ecology of giraffe in Murchison Falls National Park. Although the terrain is easier to navigate, the giraffe tend to be more dispersed in smaller groups throughout the park during the prolonged dry season, making the work equally challenging and equally rewarding
Understanding the Status and Ecology of Rothschild’s/Nubian Giraffe In Uganda’s Kidepo Valley National Park
Note: The following entry is taken from a field report written for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation following the third annual survey of Kidepo Valley National Park. Check out their work at giraffeconservation.org to learn more about the efforts of this quality organization
Michael B. Brown, Fiona Mackay, Raj Hunjan, Erin Haycraft, Stephanie Edling, Jimmy Sanders, Paul Round, Herbert Kasozi and Julian Fennessy
In the rugged wilderness of Uganda’s northeastern Karamoja region, nestled in the striking valleys along the mountainous borders with South Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo Valley National Park hosts a diverse assemblage of unique wildlife. Historically, Kidepo Valley National Park was home to one of the largest populations of giraffe in Uganda, but years of civil unrest decimated the region’s wildlife, including the rare Rothschild’s/Nubian giraffe. Despite the ensuing political stability, the giraffe population of Kidepo Valley National Park has yet to recover to a level beyond jeopardy. Since 2015, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and partners have been working to develop a systematic population monitoring programme and implement a series of associated scientific studies to better understand the population status and the unique nature of the threats that this small and imperiled population faces in Uganda’s frontier region.
A Brief History of Giraffe in Kidepo Valley National Park
Located in north eastern Uganda, and bordering South Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo Valley National Park is comprised of the Narus River Valley in the south and west and the Kidepo River Valley in the north and east (Harrington & Ross 1974). The Park’s rivers are seasonal, with the Narus River Valley being the only location of water sources during the dry season (Aleper & Moe 2006). Ranging in altitude from approximately 1,000 metres to 2,750 metres above sea level (Aleper & Moe 2006) an array of habitat is found within the Park, from arid plains and open savannas, to hills, rocky outcroppings, and mountain ranges. The park itself is an especially biodiverse region, with over 80 species of mammals found within the Park borders (Aleper & Moe 2006).
In 1962, the year of Uganda’s Independence, 1,259 km2 of Kidepo Valley National Park was initially gazetted with an additional 181 km2 being added to the Park in 1967. During the time leading up to the Park’s official designation, poaching was relatively small scale and localized with traditional weapons. From the late 1970s, however, the severity of these threats changed as Idi Amin’s army was overthrown by the Tanzanian army and Obote forces, resulting in a proliferation of firearms among the local Karamajong people. This development led to increased violence in the region, including poaching and cattle raiding. In 1986, Museveni became President of Uganda, but this change in leadership had limited impact on the region. Since travel to the Park was limited by air, few people ventured to this region and both tourism and security remained largely underdeveloped. Interestingly, even the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) avoided the region. Under-resourced Park staff could do little throughout this period to mitigate the threats which included grazing in the Park and transhumance activities between Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan. Unfortunately, a number of wildlife species became locally extinct, including rhino, roan antelope and African wild dog, while giraffe numbers were reduced to an estimated three individuals.
In 2001 various voluntary and forced disarmament programmes were instituted to reduce the estimated 40,000 guns in the Karamajong region. However, this policy lead to a virtual state of war between the local people and the Ugandan army. By 2006 the last remnants of the LRA were forced out of northern Uganda which opened up the route into the region and for the first time in twenty years the Park was safely accessible to drive into (Uganda Wildlife Foundation 2014).