Virtual Safari Helping Giraffes

Karyl Carmignani, SDZG Staff Writer

If you’ve ever dreamed of Africa—and many of us have! —you will enjoy being part of our Wildwatch Kenya team, which classifies field photos taken at two conservancies in northern Kenya. According to the IUCN Red List, the reticulated giraffe, one of the most iconic mammals on the planet, has declined by over 70% over the past 20 years—from 36,000 to fewer than 9,000 today. Poaching, loss of contiguous habitat, and land degradation are all pushing the giraffe toward an ominously named “silent extinction.” But there is hope!

San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) is committed to reversing this negative trend.

To effectively help protect the reticulated giraffe, researchers must first understand how these towers of the savanna use their habitat. As part of SDZG’s collaborative conservation effort, over 100 motion-activated cameras have been installed at two research sites in northern Kenya: Loisaba Conservancy and Namunyak Community Conservancy.  

A local team of Twiga Walinzi (which means Giraffe Guards in Swahili) is conducting field research to study and identify individual giraffes, while monitoring field cameras, engaging with local communities, and removing poachers’ snares from the conservancy sites.

When the memory cards are collected from the field cameras, the photos are uploaded to the Wildwatch Kenya site, located on a citizen science platform called Zooniverse. Here, people from around the world—including you—can help us identify and count species found throughout the study site from the comfort of their computer.

So far, over 11,000 volunteer citizen scientists have helped us classify over half a million images!

The data on giraffe ecology and interactions (and the presence of other species, including people) will provide science-based information to land owners and managers to assist in decision making and building a sense of community ownership around the conservation of this special species.

We are deeply grateful to our trusty volunteers patiently parsing through the field photos, and we invite you to join our Wildwatch Kenya team to help out reticulated giraffes. Let’s keep the dream alive!

VIDEO: Meet the committed Twiga Walinzi team heading out into the field: