Twiga Tracker: Largest GPS Satellite Tracking Study Ever Conducted on Giraffe


Giraffe are among Africa’s most iconic wildlife, yet their conservation status is surprisingly less well known. In the 1980s, the total population of all giraffe species in Africa was estimated to be more than 155,000. Today, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) estimates the population has declined nearly 30% to current numbers of 111,000 giraffe in Africa. That is approximately one giraffe to every three to four elephants currently roaming African ecosystems. To save these incredible animals and conserve their habitats, it is vital to gain a better understanding of their space use needs and required resources.


Over the past five years, the Twiga Tracker initiative, led by GCF and supported by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) has deployed over two hundred GPS units to track giraffe throughout Africa. With the help of manufacturers and veterinarians, the initiative developed a solar charged tracking device that’s roughly the size of a deck of cards. The device records the GPS location of individual giraffe each hour and transmits these spatial data directly to researchers through a network of satellites and displayed by EarthRanger.

A look at how researchers are tracking giraffes using EarthRanger. Photo courtesy Giraffe Conservation Fund.

“The advances in GPS tracking technology are opening incredible and exciting avenues for understanding animal movements with a scale and accuracy unlike anything we’ve seen before. The vast quantities of data generated by these tracking devices require new data management tools to efficiently process, analyze, and visualize the data. That’s where rapid data management and visualization platforms are filling a crucial needs for animal conservation.” - Michael B. Brown, conservation science fellow at the GCF and SCBI


Twiga Tracker has deployed over 225 tracking units on all four species of giraffe, spanning ecosystems across sub-Saharan Africa and collecting over 1.5 million data points to date. The initiative has published over ten peer reviewed scientific publications so far, sharing the first evidence of spatial migration in certain giraffe populations in Uganda, new descriptions of nocturnal behavior of desert dwelling in Namibia, and expanding the knowledge of the space use needs of giraffe in sub-Saharan Africa.

The EarthRanger platform also shares giraffe locations and space use with conservation partners in real-time. Rapid access to giraffe locations and automated geofencing alerts have allowed for ranger teams in the field to better target conservation patrols and to rapidly mobilize when giraffe leave the relative safety of protected area boundaries.

GCF tagging an Angolan giraffe in Northwest Namibia. Photo courtesy Giraffe Conservation Fund.

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