After years of planning and fundraising, Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) have finally launched Operation Twiga. Twiga is the Swahili word for giraffe and Operation Twiga is an initiative to protect the critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi). The operation was launched at the headquarters of UWA where Dr. Julian Fennessy, the Director of GCF, handed over a truck to UWA that will be used to transport giraffe from the northern side of Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP), Uganda to the southern side where these animals have not existed in perhaps the last 100 years (it is hard to say for sure). It was a special occasion that was spearheaded by the acting Executive Director of UWA, Dr. Nightingale Mirembe, Head Veterinary of UWA Dr. Patrick Atimnedi and the Director of Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC), James Musinguzi. I am here to help in this effort as part of the continued collaboration of Michigan State University’s RECaP (Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey) Laboratory and GCF via Dr. Fennessy. Today we had a team meeting where we learned that we are going to translocate a total of 22 giraffes. We will move 20 of these giraffes to the southern bank of the Victoria Nile River that bisects the park, and 2 giraffes will be moved to UWEC in Entebbe.
The main objective of Operation Twiga is to secure the future of Rothschild’s giraffes in their natural habitat and range. With human activities threating the survival of giraffe subspecies across sub-Saharan Africa, such programs are key to the conservation of this incredible species. For instance, there is ongoing oil exploration in northwestern Ugandan, adjacent to MFNP, and the effects of such activities on the local flora and fauna are, as yet, unknown. Uganda is home to 75% of the remaining Rothschild’s giraffe population and MFNP is home to the largest population of the subspecies, numbering slightly over 1,000 individuals. Thus, a team of veterinaries, ecologists, rangers, and volunteers, made their way to MFNP to begin the translocation process of these precious animals. The team spent a day assessing the terrain and materials needed for the translocation. Park rangers and UWA officials also held a brief training session to make sure that everyone knew their roles beforehand.
The training was led by Dr. Peter Morckel, an expert who has assisted in the translocation of African megafauna for several decades. Moving any large mammal, especially one as large as a giraffe, is easier said than done. The training was very helpful as everyone was reminded what to do at each stage and in good time. Wild animals are not used to human presence and they can become easily agitated or aggressive when humans get too close. Therefore, it was important that we (the whole team of ecologists, vets, rangers, and volunteers) were made aware of the risks and what was expected of each one of us. We were shown the tools that would be used for the operation and got up close with them before they were in use. One particular item that grabbed everyone’s attention was the cart for transporting giraffe that was donated by UWEC. Everyone is excited about Operation Twiga and is anxiously waiting for the moment when the enclosure, which was built by UWA rangers, has a couple of tenants!