One of Canada Bay Club’s long-time members, Jimmy Sanders, is Senior Giraffe Keeper at Sydney’s iconic Taronga Zoo. We’ve long supported Jimmy’s goals of giraffe conservation by donating funds to his research efforts. Earlier this year, Jimmy travelled to Uganda’s Kidepo Valley National Park for a field trip. We’re proud to be associated with such a passionate supporter of our endangered wildlife – read more about Jimmy’s love of giraffes and his trip to Uganda.
Q Jimmy, how long have you been involved with Taronga Zoo?
A I’ve worked as a full-time keeper for the Taronga Conservation Society of Australia (TCSA) for the past 16 years, both at Taronga Zoo Sydney and Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo. However, my involvement goes back even further. Before fulltime employment, I volunteered as a Zoo Friend member, then became a volunteer keeper for several years.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been working at Taronga Zoo as Senior Giraffe Keeper, while assisting in wild giraffe conservation as well.
Q How did you find yourself in Africa with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation?
A Four years ago, Dr Julian Fennessy, co-founder of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) did a presentation on giraffe conservation in the wild at Taronga Zoo. I was blown away by the fact that wild giraffe numbers had declined so dramatically, and felt the need to do something personally.
I contacted the foundation and asked how I could help. The first-ever World Giraffe Day on 21 June was approaching, so there was no better time to arrange a fundraiser. I arranged a garage sale and Canada Bay Club was generous enough to donate the profits from the weekly director’s raffle. Together, the events raised almost $5000.
The relationship between me, Canada Bay Club and the GCF grew from there. The club also accepted my application for its community club grant, providing the opportunity for me to travel to Africa and assist in the research.
Q What were you researching in Africa?
A For the 2017 field trip we travelled to Kidepo Valley National Park in Uganda. It was estimated that less than 21 Nubian giraffes were living in this area. Fortunately, during our 10-day trip, we spotted at least 26 Nubian giraffes with five juvenile animals, which gave us enormous hope of a growing giraffe population in this region of Africa.
The research conducted on this field trip not only allowed the identification and count of the giraffes throughout the region, it also allowed us to conduct important DNA collection and to fit two satellite tracking units.
In Kidepo Valley National Park, the GCF works closely with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers by monitoring personnel, helping build Uganda’s capacity to survey and monitor this important giraffe population. This recent research will build on the valuable data already collected and allow us to assess the threat to the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe in Kidepo Valley National Park.
It will also inform the future of the Ugandan Government’s National Giraffe Conservation Strategy, initiated in early 2017, as well as provide valuable input into marketing this remote region of the country.
The Kidepo Valley National Park is located in a remote area of Uganda and local communities are mainly subsistence farms with very limited opportunity to participate in a formal economy, so the park has the potential to attract increasing tourism numbers if it’s promoted well as a tourism destination with good wildlife viewing.
Q How is the giraffe’s future on the planet looking now? Are they in danger?
A Until recently, giraffes were the forgotten giants of Africa. In the last 10 years, wild giraffe numbers have plummeted by up to 40%, leaving roughly only 100,000 wild giraffe left in Africa. Putting this into perspective, an estimated 400,000 wild elephant are left in Africa, yet everyone seems to know the trouble elephants are in.
In 2008, the West African giraffe was classified endangered and of high conservation importance on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. At the beginning of the 20th century, the West African giraffe subspecies was widely distributed, from Nigeria to Senegal, but by the mid-1990s, only 49 individual giraffe remained in the whole of West Africa. The Niger Government now formally protects these few survivors and their numbers have risen to approximately 550 individuals.
Q Where are the greatest numbers of wild giraffe? Are they breeding without issue?
A Two sub-species of the Southern giraffe occur across southern Africa and together they make up more than 50% of the continent’s total giraffe numbers. Thirty years ago, there were an estimated 5000 individual Southern giraffes; today that number has almost tripled to an estimated 13,050 in the wild.
Q What is the giraffe’s most dangerous predator?
A In the wild, giraffes are fighting machines. There are few carnivore species game enough to take on a fully-grown adult giraffe. It has been recorded that a fully-grown male giraffe decapitated a lion with a single kick. However, lion prides are learning to hunt giraffe in certain parts of Africa. Giraffes most at risk are the sick, injured, old or young giraffe who cannot defend themselves.
Sadly, humankind is one of the giraffe’s biggest predators. The impact of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and degradation, human population growth, poaching, disease, war and civil unrest threaten the remaining giraffe numbers throughout Africa.
Q Is there a taller animal in the animal kingdom than a giraffe?
A There is no taller species than the giraffe in the animal kingdom. They are the world’s tallest animal and largest ruminant (chewer of its cud, which is partly digested food returned from the first stomach to the mouth for further chewing). The average height of a male giraffe is 18ft (5.5m) and for a female 15ft (4.5m). The average weight of a male giraffe is 1200kg and for a female giraffe it is 830kg.
Q What is the average giraffe life span?
A In a captive situation, like a zoo environment, a giraffe can live 25-30 years, but in the wild it’s more like 20-25 years, if they’re lucky.
Q What do you love most about giraffes?
A My passion for these animals is due to the fact I’ve had the privilege of working with them for so long. Giraffes have a very gentle nature with unique individual personalities. They remind me of dinosaurs. I love seeing people’s faces when they see a giraffe for the first time – it’s pure amazement. Plus, I receive great satisfaction from educating people about the conservation needs of this incredible mega fauna.
Q What is the Giraffe Conservation Foundation focusing on now?
A The Giraffe Conservation Foundation is focusing on working closely with partners to develop national giraffe conservation strategies and action plans, initiating conservation translocation, undertaking population assessments and on targeted giraffe conservation management throughout Africa.
There has been a recent up listing of giraffe on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to Vulnerable Species. These findings are based on GCF’s work – and that wouldn’t be possible without the help if supporters like Canada Bay Club and other conservation institutions across the world.