Kenya: Human Activity Major Threat to Giraffe Bonding

Human presence is interfering with giraffe's social structures and cohesiveness, threatening the animals with extinction, according to a new study.

"Living close to human settlements disturbs the social networks of giraffes. They have weaker bonds with other giraffes and fewer interactions with other members of the species," according to the findings of a study by the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich (UZH), and the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour, at the University of Konstanz and Pennsylvania State University.

The findings published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, say social interactions among group members of giraffes are critical for their survival and reproduction.

The scientists systematically tracked and mapped the social networks of 1,139 individual adult female Maasai giraffes inhabiting a large, unfenced, heterogeneous landscape in Tarangire in northern Tanzania for six years -- an environment that features varying levels of anthropogenic (human-caused) disturbance.

WEAKER RELATIONSHIPS

The scientists found that giraffe communities that are closer to traditional compounds of indigenous Maasai people express weaker relationship strengths and the giraffes in these communities are more exclusive in their associations.

"Near bomas, fuelwood cutting can reduce food resources, and groups of giraffes are more likely to encounter livestock and humans on foot, thus disrupting the social associations among group members. Our results suggest that human presence could potentially be playing an important role in determining the conservation future of this megaherbivore," said the findings.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which assesses the global authority on the status of the natural world has classified the giraffe as "vulnerable."

Maasai giraffe populations have declined by 50 per cent over the past 30 years. Poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, predation by carnivores, and changes in food supply have been largely blamed for the declining numbers.

Even though giraffes are generally tolerated by humans because they do not cause conflict with farmers or livestock, hunting of giraffes and poaching for meat and body parts does happen.

The study's results suggest that human presence could play an important role in determining the conservation future of this species of giraffe.

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