Conservationists in the central African nation of Chad have discovered a new population of critically-endangered Kordofan giraffes, best known for their plain white knee-high 'socks'.
Thirty-four Kordofan giraffes were counted in an aerial survey conducted by French conservation NGO Wild Africa Conservation, the Netherlands-based Wings for Conservation and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) with support from the Chadian government.
“Finding the tallest mammal on earth still in areas that are unknown to us is always surprising,” Julian Fennessy, the co-director of GCF told RFI.
With their distinctive absence of lower leg patterns, it is still a mystery as to how the giraffes ended up in Koundjourou. They represent the northernmost population found so far.
There are only around 2,300 Kordofan giraffes – a subspecies of the Northern giraffe – left in the wild. Up to 60 percent live in Chad's Zakouma National Park and the Siniaka Minia Wildlife Reserve, far to the south.
While elephants and tiang, a type of antelope, are known to migrate into the Koundjourou area, there have been no records of giraffes migrating there, Fennessy explained.
“It could be a remnant population from a much larger distribution historically.”
While there had been anecdotal reports of giraffes and other wildlife living in Koundjourou, there was no evidence. Then, two years ago, Wings for Conservation founder Jaime Dias was flying over the area and spotted a lone bull giraffe.
“It was very satisfying to finally have confirmation,” he told RFI.
Plans were made to conduct an aerial survey of the entire area, but had to be put on hold after Covid-19 and its travel restrictions hit.
The survey finally took place in March this year. The GCF, which works to protect giraffes in 17 African countries, announced news of the find this month.
“We still know very little about their range or how they survived,” Dias explained.
“There are very few villages or human settlements in the area, and I believe that is mainly due to the lack of water during the five months of the dry season. It just goes to show how resilient giraffes are, and how adaptable they are to harsh environments.”
Other wildlife found during the March survey included lions, hyena, North African ostrich, and red-fronted gazelle – a small antelope that was once abundant but has now been reduced to a few scattered remnants across the Sahel.
A number of nesting sites of endangered lappet-faced vultures were recorded across Koundjourou – a land that consists of large plains, dense savanna woodland and some rugged mountains.
The Chadian government and potential donors have expressed interest in creating a new wildlife reserve there on the back of the giraffe discovery, Fennessy said.
An action plan for its development and management is already being worked on.
Early next year GCF and its partners plan to put satellite tags on some of the newly-discovered giraffes to record their movements to help work out the extent of the future reserve.
And because Koundjourou is used seasonally by pastoralists, the reserve will not exclude nomadic herders and their livestock.
Sadly, the discovery of the new population doesn't make Kordofan giraffes any less endangered, but it is “exciting”, the GCF director said.
“It does give one hope that there are more populations out there that we can work with partners to better conserve, and that in time population numbers grow as protection gets better.”