December is one of my favourite times for field work in Murchison Falls National Park. Every morning, I head down to the edge of the Victoria Nile and look east as the red sun rises over the southern banks of the broad river. In the fledgling day, before the temperatures achieve their tropical potential, the air is still cool and often the soil is still damp from the last of the wet season storms during the previous night. Within these tropical savannas, changes between wet and dry seasons can potentially alter the entire landscape and shift the dynamics of the complicated community of living beings. Those changes are one of the reasons I come to Murchison Falls in December. During the latter part of this month, the wet-season storm clouds typically dwindle as the landscape transitions into the dry season. I am here to see how these changes can influence this beautiful ecosystem, specifically through the lens of giraffe population ecology and spatial ecology. So as I stand on the banks of this storied waterway, I embrace this morning routine as a quiet, contemplative prelude to coming long rewarding day fieldwork. I'll be spending the next 11 hours systematically driving the network of game tracks looking for giraffe photographing them as part of a seasonal demographic survey.
The Rothschild’s giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi, is among the most endangered of the nine giraffe subspecies with the current global numbers estimated at fewer than 1,700 individuals scattered across isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda. In recent history, giraffe in Uganda have been relegated to two distinct populations - Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park. During late July of 2015, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) translocated fifteen individual giraffe from the Murchison Falls population to Lake Mburo National Park, aiming to create the foundation of a third population.
During a previous trip to the field at the end of July 2015, a team from GCF and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo visited Lake Mburo National Park a few days after the giraffe were released in the Park
This brief reconnaissance trip provided critical insights into the translocation process and offered an encouraging glimpse of the newly established population. The giraffe seemed to be settling down in their new, unfamiliar environment, but we wanted to collect a bit more information to examine these behaviors.