In June 2015, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) translocated 15 giraffes from Murchison Falls national park to Lake Mburo in western Uganda, as part of the conservation body’s efforts to diversify the animal species as well as create a safe population of the animals.
Anxiety was growing, given that it was coming to three years since the animals were taken to Mburo but with no signs of multiplication.
The 15 giraffes that included eight females were moved to Mburo and were expected to produce at least within 15 months of their arrival but alas, they only helped in eating the acacia hockii which had been growing out of hand in the park.
However, in recent months, one of the female giraffes showed signs of pregnancy and given the size of its udder, was expected to produce the first Mburo calf in July. But in a pleasant surprise, the new baby arrived last week, sending conservationists into jubilation.
“We brought mostly semi adults…maybe that is why they have taken long to reproduce,” said Asa Musinguzi Kule, the chief warden at Lake Mburo national park.
Murchison Falls has about 1,250 giraffes, which is nearly 75 per cent of the world’s population of the Rothschild giraffe species, but given the ongoing oil exploration activities in the Albertine region, their survival is under threat.
It is for this reason that UWA embarked on the exercise of creating safe populations in other parks, as well as on the southern bank of Murchison falls, which does not have a high population of animals due to the Victoria Nile that divides the national park into two.
“Translocations are not done blindly; we first do a study, look at the history to confirm whether the animals lived there before. Had we known earlier, we wouldn’t have lost the northern white and black rhinos, for instance,” Musinguzi said.
Last month, the northern white rhino’s only surviving male died at the Ole Pejeta wildlife sanctuary in Kenya. It is survived by a daughter and granddaughter and unless its harvested seed yields an IVF miracle, the species are facing extinction.
The rhino was part of four northern white rhinos that were flown from Uganda to Czech Republic to save them from Idi Amin’s men that were hunting them down.
When the situation stabilised in the 1980s, Czech Republic offered to bring them back but somehow, they ended up in Kenya.
Uganda currently has 23 rhinos – two at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) at Entebbe and the others at Ziwa rhino sanctuary in Nakasongola district; they are all of the southern white species. Rhino horn trade has made the beasts one of the most endangered species in the world.
Owing to the human-wildlife conflicts at Lake Mburo national park, UWA is moving more animals that are considered surplus in the park to other protected areas that have a deficiency of specific animal species.
Early in February, zebras, topis and elands were moved to Katonga wildlife reserve that is being prepared for an upgrade into a national park.
The giraffes during translocation
On March 20, UWA veterinarians and rangers were back to Lake Mburo to translocate impalas to Pian Upe game reserve in Nakapiripirit district. Lake Mburo is home to more than 36,000 impalas and a lot more that are said to be living outside the park in surrounding ranches.
“Impalas are found in two places in Uganda – Lake Mburo national park being the mother park, and Katonga wildlife reserve. We now want to make Pian Upe the third habitat for impalas,” Musinguzi said.
Unlike other animals that are captured after daybreak, impalas are manually captured at night. The vets and rangers take advantage of the impalas’ poor night vision to raid their herds with strong flashlights to capture them as they have a deer-in-lights moment.
As the state minister for Tourism Godfrey Kiwanda Ssuubi witnessed the translocation of impalas, he raised a concern of the hippos that are said to be terrorising locals in Rubirizi district near Queen Elizabeth national park.
“There are 15 hippos that are wreaking havoc in Rubirizi; the people want them to be taken away or [neutered] such that they are unable to reproduce, or the community be allowed to kill them,” Kiwanda said.
“Why don’t you translocate problem animals like those hippos?” Kiwanda asked the UWA staff.
Hippos are heavy animals and UWA might not have the capacity to translocate an animal that weighs more than 3,000kg.
“Different species need different methods of translocation; hippos need to be moved very fast because they live in water, and we may need a helicopter to move a single hippo which we don’t have. You can’t dart a hippo, because it may disappear into the water and die, or if you dart it, you need a crane to lift it,” Aggrey Rwetsiba, a senior manager in charge of monitoring and research at UWA, said.
For now, the residents of Rubirizi can only coexist with the dangerous herbivores that are nonetheless known to kill humans and animals within seconds.
Facts about the giraffe
The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world, standing at around 4m to 5m high, and the tallest giraffes can be recorded up to 5.9m.
Despite being incredibly tall, giraffes still only have seven vertebrae in their neck – the same number as humans and most other mammals.
A giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground. As a result, it has to awkwardly spread or bend its front legs to reach the ground for a drink of water.
Giraffes only need to drink once every few days. Most of their water comes from the plants they eat.
Unlike most other four-legged mammals, giraffes swing both legs on the same side at almost the same time during their walk, known as ‘pacing’. This movement is lost, however, when the giraffe breaks into a gallop.
Giraffe feet are the size of a dinner plate with a diameter of 30cm.
Both male and female giraffe have ‘horns’ already at birth. These ossicones lie flat and are not attached to the skull to avoid injury at birth. They only fuse with the skull later in life.
Female giraffes give birth standing up. Their young fall about 2m to the ground and can stand up within an hour of birth.
The gestation period for a giraffe is 457 days, which is about 15 months. Generally, only a single baby is born.
About 50 per cent of all giraffe calves do not survive their first year.
Just like human fingerprints, no two giraffes have the same coat pattern.
Giraffes have an efficient nasal cooling system to regulate brain temperature up to 3°C lower than the rest of the body.
To protect the giraffe’s brain from sudden changes in blood pressure when it lowers its head to drink, it has valves to stop the back-flow of blood and elastic-walled vessels that dilate and constrict to manage flow.
Giraffe tongues are bluish-purple and between 45cm and 50cm long.
A giraffe heart can weigh approximately 11kg and this is the biggest of any land mammal. It can pump 60 litres of blood around its body every minute at a blood pressure twice that of an average human.