Researcher: Julian FennessyRegion: Nothern Botswana
BackgroundThe taxonomicclassification of Botswana’s giraffe is currently unknown, listed as eitherGiraffa camelopardalis giraffa (Cape or Southern giraffe) or G.c. angolensis(Angolan giraffe) – depending on which taxonomic reference one uses. Theirclassification has been based on the distinct geographic region in which theyreside, and as such the limited capacity of other populations to migrate to orfrom this region, as well as their distinctive pelage (spot) pattern.
Although numbers ofBotswana’s giraffe are assumed to be stable – approximately 11 000 individualsreported in 1998 and again in 2004 – there has been no targeted effort oraccurate estimate of the population. The limited surveys, coupled with sketchyinformation, indicate that the population still resides mostly in and aroundprotected areas. Recent genetic research further highlight that many of thehistorically classified (sub)species of giraffe are genetically distinct at aspecies level.
This project would helpto fill this gap as Namibian giraffe have recently been categorised as distinctto those in South Africa, as are Angolan giraffe (G.c. angolensis). TheSouthern or Cape giraffe (G.c. giraffa) of South Africa presents the thirdregional giraffe population, along with the Thornicroft’s giraffe (G.c.thornicrofti) found in Zambia. The genetic studies undertaken during thisresearch will thus seek to better understand the genetic architecture of the giraffepopulation in Botswana to help resolve their taxonomic status as a significantsubspecies. And the question is begged: is this a distinct fourth regionalgiraffe population? Thus the researchers will investigate the possible geneticvariation of the giraffe in Botswana compared with other extant giraffepopulations – in particular in Southern Africa.
Importantly, theoutcomes of this project will hopefully spill over to government andnon-government bodies’ alike better understanding their numbers, status andtherefore better conservation management outcomes for the population.
DetailsThe primary objective of this project includes collecting tissue samples (genetic material) from various populations in northern and central Botswana – Chobe, Linyanti, Moremi, Nxai Pans and Central Kalahari Game Reserve. These samples will be analysed in a laboratory to assess possible genetic variation of the Botswana giraffe compared with other giraffe populations in Africa.
The project intends to have an intensive field research component (three weeks) in northern and central Botswana working collaboratively with a range of stakeholders including Elephants Without Borders, African Wildlife Foundation and Wilderness Safaris Botswana, as well the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Additionally, training of partner staff in genetic field collation is a key component of the project. All data collated will be shared with the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks and inputted into the Africa-wide IGWG Giraffe Database (GiD) for reporting of the species status on a continental scale.
UpdateAnnual Report 2010
Genetic Sampling Methods
Giraffe tissue samples were collected from a random subset of the northern and central giraffe populations in Botswana (44 individuals in total from three major population groups: Moremi, Chobe and Makgadikgadi) using a remote biopsy dart delivery system (Pneu -Dart dart gun) and a long cutter biopsy Pneu-Dart to assess the genetic ‘health’ and DNA structure of the population. The samples were then couriered to the USA.
To date, the tissue biopsy samples have been ‘cleaned’ and ‘banked’, and the first stages of extraction and analysis has begun. It is hoped that the analyses will be completed and reported on by mid-2010.
Over the coming months the Henry Doorly Zoo’s Centre for Research and Conservation will complete the extraction and analysis of the Botswana giraffe samples and compare them with the datasets from across the continent. It is hoped that this work will be finalised and a report furnished to the Botswana Authorities and other colleagues by the middle of 2010. Soon after, a scientific paper will be submitted to an international peer-reviewed journal.
Discussions were held with Elephants Without Borders during the field research about the possibility of collaborating on future giraffe conservation efforts throughout Botswana. This collaboration would be exciting and extremely useful in gaining a greater knowledge of giraffe range and numbers in the country.
It is hoped that the results of this project will, apart from the objectives outlined in the Project Notes, enable the international zoo community to make more informed decisions regarding the designed matings within the captive population to maintain (sub)specific purity and within that parameter maximise the genetic diversity and minimise inbreeding. The results will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the proportion of captive giraffe that have been correctly assigned by pedigree records, mis-assigned by error, or are hybrids between subspecies. With these results, the International Zoo community will be better informed to make management decisions on whether or not to modify breeding strategies.