Taronga terrestrial biologist Peter Harlow and zookeeper Jordy Michelmore recently returned from three weeks in Kenya working with one of Taronga’s conservation partners, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). Their role was to assist with establishing a photographic database of individual reticulated giraffes and Grevy’s zebras inside the 107 km2, fenced Sera Rhino Sanctuary.
Working with ranger teams in two of the camps for 11 days, Peter and Jordy photographed every giraffe and zebra seen, and are now sorting through almost 2000 images. Grevy’s zebra are an endangered species found only in northern Kenya and Ethiopia, with a wild population of about 2500, while the ‘Vulnerable’ reticulated giraffe have a total population of about 8500.
This photographic database will help NRT estimate how many individual giraffes and zebras live within the sanctuary and monitor the population growth over the coming decades. From the photos, each giraffe and zebra can be identified by their unique individual patterns using individual recognition software. This project is similar to a ‘mark and recapture’ monitoring study where an animal is caught, tagged and released.
Population monitoring for the two species is needed for different reasons. “Their aim is to introduce more Grevy’s zebra to the sanctuary once they have an understanding of the population size,” says Peter. “In times of drought, the reticulated giraffe competes with the Black Rhino for food. The Black Rhino is the priority species for this sanctuary – if too many giraffes are found to be in the area some will be moved to other sanctuary sites.”
Twelve black rhinos were translocated to the sanctuary in 2015, to establish a new population in northern Kenya where they have not been seen in decades. They are well protected here, with four scout and tracker team field camps inside the sanctuary, plus two heavily armed and well-trained teams of 14 men each in their Rapid Response Units. They have 24-hour radio communications, plus plane, helicopter and sniffer dog team backup less than two hours away.
“Every morning the trackers go out and locate each individual rhino and record its GPS location,” Peter says. “Once the population of Black Rhinos reaches capacity within the sanctuary, they will be translocated to other protected areas.”
As a conservation partner, Taronga supports NRT through the organisation’s Beads for Wildlife campaign, which aims to provide an alternative income to communities in Northern Kenya by selling beadwork on their behalf through Taronga retail outlets. The beadwork sales, brought from the women at Fairtrade prices and conditions, allow a reduced community reliance on livestock. This reduced reliance on livestock eases the competitive pressure with wildlife on water and vegetation.
Profits from Taronga’s bead sales also allow the support of Northern Rangelands Trust Scouts who work to protect wildlife from the threat of poachers. Taronga retail teams have sold more than 20,000 beadwork items on behalf of the people and wildlife of Kenya.
Find out more information about Beads for Wildlife program here.