NEW RESEARCH: Baby Giraffes Hide in Bushes from Natural Predators but Have a Mixed Relationship With People
Masai giraffes are the world’s tallest herbivores and beloved by people around the globe, but were recently classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). New research from Wild Nature Institute, published in the science journal Oecologia, showed how food, predators, and people all influence giraffe social behavior. In particular, the international team of researchers University of Zürich and Penn State University pinpointed the special requirements needed by mother giraffes to keep their babies safe, which can help land managers to protect the places most important for giraffes.
“Like all herbivores, giraffes need to find quality food to survive, but also need to avoid lions, or at least see them coming,” noted lead author Monica Bond, Wild Nature Institute principal scientist and PhD candidate at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zürich. “Giraffes in our huge, unfenced study area can choose from among many different places to spend their time – places with different kinds of trees and bushes, and places deep inside protected parks or closer to farming towns or ranchlands where people live. There are lots of options in this landscape, including fewer lions outside the parks versus inside. So we wondered, how do these options influence giraffe grouping behavior? These data help us know what places are most important for these magnificent animals.” The study found that groups composed of adult giraffes were food-focused, not affected by predation risk. Adults formed the largest groups, up to 66 individuals, in the rainy season when food is plentiful, but smaller groups during the dry season when food is harder to find. In contrast, predation risk was a very important factor influencing congregations with calves.
“Giraffe calves are vulnerable to being killed by lions and other carnivores, while adults are typically large enough to escape predation,” stated senior author Barbara König, professor at the University of Zürich. “We were testing hypotheses about mother and calf behavior to see if their strategy was for calves to hide in thick bushes to avoid predators, be in the open to see predators coming, or be in large groups for many eyes and lower individual risk.” The researchers documented that in areas with the most lions, groups with calves were found more often in dense bushes than open grasslands, and those groups were smaller in size. This suggests giraffe mothers and calves have a strategy of hiding in dense bushes, rather than staying in open areas to better see lions, or gathering in large groups to dilute the predation risk. These results mean that dense bushlands are important habitat for giraffe calves and should be protected. Some cattle ranchers promote shrub removal to encourage grass for their livestock, but they share the rangelands with giraffes and other browsers that use shrubs.
The study also explored the influence of humans on giraffe grouping behaviors. “Outside the parks the human population has been rapidly expanding in recent years,” said co-author Derek Lee, Wild Nature Institute principal scientist and associate research professor of biology at Penn State University. “Therefore, we felt it was important to understand how human presence affected grouping behavior, as natural giraffe habitat is ever-more dominated by people.” Interestingly, adult females with calves were more likely to be found closer to traditional pastoralist compounds called bomas, made by livestock-keeping, non-farming people. “We suspect this is because the pastoralists may disrupt predator behaviors to protect their livestock—and this benefits the giraffe calves,” noted Lee. Conversely, calf groups avoided areas close to farming peoples’ towns, suggesting a difference between traditional bomas versus more densely populated human settlements for giraffe mothers seeking food and safety for themselves and their calves.
“We were happy to find that traditional human settlements by ranchers appear to be compatible with the persistence of giraffe populations,” stated Bond. “But on the other hand, disturbances around towns likely represent a threat and should be limited in areas favored by giraffes.” The study was part of the world’s largest giraffe research project and used data from six years of systematic seasonal surveys across a 2,000 square kilometer area. Learn more about giraffe research and conservation at http://www.wildnatureinstitute.org/giraffe.html
What a size difference between a giraffe calf and an adult male! We don't know the father of this baby, but it is incredible to think that a 2-meter tall calf can grow into a 5-meter tall adult. Males can also top 1,000 kilograms in weight, making them one of the world's few mega-herbivore species.
Happy Father's Day!
The wonderful students from Charles H. Hulse Public School in Ottowa, Canada are giraffe heroes. They heard about the silent extinction of giraffes by watching “The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,” a movie about one of the first giraffe scientists, the eminent Dr. Anne Innes Dagg. They decided they wanted to help, so they organized a rummage sale and raised funds to “adopt” a baby giraffe from Wild Nature Institute! A hundred percent of their donation goes to our conservation research and education program to save giraffes in Tanzania, and in return they received an adoption certificate, a photograph, and a letter from their adopted baby giraffe, named Baraka, as well as a Juma the Giraffe storybook. The name means “Blessing” in Swahili, and many of the students in the school speak Swahili and Arabic and thus understand the meaning of the name.
People often ask us what they can do to help save giraffes. Donating money and raising awareness are some of the most important actions you can take – which makes the students from Charles H. Hulse Public School true giraffe heroes. Thank you for standing tall for giraffes!
Back in February, we reported on a remarkable case of an adult female giraffe in Tarangire National Park allowing several calves to nurse at the same time. Today the report was published in the African Journal of Ecology.
In our new paper "Simultaneous multiple-calf allonursing by a wild Masai giraffe," we provide the first documentation of three calves nursing at the same time from one adult female in the wild. This unusual sighting suggests that for animals that live in social groups and share in caring of young, the benefits of sometimes allowing other females' calves to nurse might be greater than the costs.
We thank all of our funders who support our research, including University of Zurich and Penn State University; Parrotia, Temperatio, Promotor, and Claraz foundations; and our long-term partners at Columbus Zoo, Sacramento Zoo, Tierpark Berlin and Zoo Berlin, Tulsa Zoo, and Cincinnati Zoo.
Tanzanian schoolchildren living near elephants in the Tarangire-Manyara region are learning about the similarities between elephants and people, and the importance of empathy, through Wild Nature Institute's latest storybook Our Elephant Neighbours.
In addition to the ivory poaching crisis, elephants are often killed due to conflicts with farmers. The story explains why elephants raid crop fields, and provides solutions such as chili pepper fences and land planning to keep space for elephants to move.
Our Elephant Neighbours is the second in our series of books about Africa's Giants giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. These books teach about wildlife ecology, social behavior, and conservation through captivating images and engaging stories, and inspire the next generation to protect these magnificent megaherbivores for the health of their environment and economy.
We thank our Celebrating Africa's Giants partners at PAMS Foundation, The Living Desert, Columbus Zoo, Sacramento Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, and Tierpark Berlin and Berlin Zoo.
#AfricasGiants #StandTallForGiraffe #ElephantNeighbors #RhinoCrash
The Wildlife Professional magazine just published a cool article about the machine-learning technology we use to process our big data on our big animals!
Here's hoping for an Earth Day with Twiga Wengi Sana!
Juma the Giraffe is featured in the Peace For Conservation environmental education program in communities west of Serengeti National Park Tanzania. Kids learn about giraffes and other wildlife, write songs praising giraffe, paint, and do good deeds in this very cool program. #StandTallForGiraffe
CORVALLIS, Ore. - A groundbreaking two-year study in southern Oregon found greater abundance and diversity of wild bees in areas that experienced moderate and severe forest fires compared to areas with low-severity fires. The study, published today in the journal Ecosphere by researchers in the Oregon State University College of Forestry, is the first to demonstrate that wildfire severity is a strong predictor of bee diversity in mixed-conifer forest.
Bees are the most important among the Earth's pollinators, which combine for an estimated $100 billion in global economic impact each year. Oregon is home to more than 500 species of native bees. Animal pollinators enhance the reproduction of nearly 90 percent of the Earth's flowering plants, including many food crops. The pollinators are an essential component of insect and plant biodiversity. Bees are the standard bearer because they're usually present in the greatest numbers and because they're the only pollinator group that feeds exclusively on nectar and pollen their entire life.
Scientists led by OSU forest wildlife ecologist Jim Rivers in 2016 began trapping bees at 43 sites in forests burned by the 2013 Douglas Complex fire that scorched nearly 50,000 acres north of Grants Pass. They collected bees with blue-vane traps, which attract the insects by reflecting ultraviolet light, and used satellite imagery to determine fire severity.
"Twenty times more individuals and 11 times more species were captured in areas that experienced high fire severity relative to areas with the lowest fire severity," said Sara M. Galbraith, a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Forestry. "We detected a large number of bees in recently burned forest patches. The bees represented five families and a large subset of Oregon's wild bee species." At low-severity sites, flames were mostly confined to low-growing vegetation. "If you weren't looking for the markers of fire, in the low-severity spots you wouldn't know that they had burned," Galbraith said. "The canopy is more closed, and there wasn't a lot of visible evidence of fire except for blackened areas on the tree trunks." In contrast, some of the high-severity sites had a completely open canopy.
"There were many more flowering plants in the understory because the light limitation was gone," she said. "The flowering plants and another critical habitat component for maintaining bee populations -boring insect exit holes used by cavity-nesting bees - both increased with fire severity." And the two most abundant genera among the trapped bees, Bombus (bumblebee species) and Halictus (sweat bee species), each responded positively to high fire severity despite having different foraging ranges.
"This research adds to the evidence that there is high biodiversity in early seral forests - the beginning stages of forest development - and moving forward, the amount and location of this habitat could have an impact on services like pollination in the landscape overall," she said. "Half of Oregon is forested, yet we know very little about bees in forests, especially managed conifer forests. With this fundamental information, we can begin to understand the best management actions that can promote pollinator populations within managed forests."
Previous studies primarily just considered, "did it burn or didn't it burn?'" Galbraith said. "Our study took into account the mosaic of habitats that you find after fires in many regions of the world," she said. "We found that burn severity is really useful for predicting where the bee habitat will be after a fire. It makes sense that some organisms would have evolved to do well after severe burning in this fire-adapted landscape."
Science News and Updates From the Field from Wild Nature Institute.
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