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Yearly Archive December 16, 2020

Reticulated Giraffes in zoos and the wild – Interview Part 2

CK: In Germany there only are five reticulated giraffe bulls left – three of them are in their final period of life, one has no cows around, and only the Serengeti Park Hodenhagen has a young stallion who realistically seen could breed. Will we have to say goodbye to reticulated giraffe births in Germany permanently?

JJ: As coordinator I always have the entire situation on mind, not any national borders. However, I do not think that we have to say goodbye to newborns forever. Yet due to their long gestation period of 15 months changes happen very slowly. Thus it can happen quite some time until reticulated giraffes are born on a regular base again in Germany.



CK: In general recitulated giraffes are breeding very well, it would easily be possible to raise the number of animals in zoos, while the number of free living animals is going down more and more. This automatically leads to the question why there is no breeding to re-send giraffes to the wild.

JJ: At the moment the situation for releasing giraffes to the wild is not existing. As so often when population numbers in the wild are declining the situation has to be changed in a way that the threat is reduced or a safety area is created before this makes sense. We are working on this strategy at the moment and honestly said I hope that the number of giraffes in Africa can recover and be stabilized without the help of zoos. Nevertheless I coordinate the studbook in a way that zoos could help with genetically healthy animals if needed. At the moment I try to help that the situation of giraffes in Africa is changed into the positive without zoo releases.


CK: How big is your hope particularly for reticulated giraffes that the situation changes for the good? Realistically seen Kenya is the only country, which still has this species.

JJ: It is difficult to evaluate whether or not we can succeed in keeping up the wild population of reticulated giraffes. For sure we need to do everything we can to lower the threats and create safe areas for the animals. Only when this is succeeded we can judge on the situation and see if we need to support with zoo giraffes.


CK: Which further actions can be done from zoos to improve the situation in the wild?

JJ: In the last few years I promoted the cooperation between zoo and giraffe conservation in their natural habitats. Within our giraffe group we created a subgroup, which merely focuses on the topic of giraffe protection within Africa and tries to link it closer to the zoos. For example various research and conservation projects were evaluated with an enormous amount of time to recommend them to zoos as worthy to support. This close collaboration between in-situ and ex-situ protection remains one of the goals of the breeding program.


CK: At last, you are the studbook coordinator of the various giraffe subspecies and have worked with baringo giraffes in Gelsenkirchen and now in Kronberg. Does this subspecies automatically become kind of a favorite or would you be open to working with other subspecies in your daily routine?

JJ: It is true, baringo giraffes are accompanying me since taking over the role as studbook keeper. Still, I like the other subspecies as well and am fascinated by them. That way I enjoy it a lot when visiting colleagues who are working with other subspecies. Naturally it happens that I compare the specialties of these animals to “my” baringo giraffes. This does not happen due to being my favorites but rather because I see them every day when working in the zoo.


Reticulated Giraffes in Zoos and the Wilderness – Interview with studbook keeper Jörg Jebram

One man is coordinating and deciding, which giraffes are living in which European scientifically led zoos, and which ones are allowed to breed. Jörg Jebram directs the European studbook, until end of 2019 from Gelsenkirchen Zoo, since 2020 out of Opel Zoo Kronberg. He gave the recommendation to support the Reticulated Giraffe Studbook in Kenya’s Samburu Nationalpark, and Charity Kalender talked to him about his activity within the zoos and the situation of the reticulated giraffes in the wild.


Charity-Kalender: Mr Jebram, 13 German zoos keep reticulated giraffes, no giraffes subspecies can be seen more. Indeed the number of giraffes is going down, the last offspring was born 2016 – what is the reason for it?

Jörg Jebram: About eight years ago I started coordinating the European studbook for the giraffe subspecies. Back then the populations were too big. There basically was no space to send offspring to other zoos. In 2014 we developed a so called long term management plan for each subspecies. The aimed population size for reticulated giraffes was determined to be 130 animals based on a precise analysis of the genetic data. Right now we have 149 reticulated giraffes in the studbook, so we still have 19 more than we need for maintaining a healthy population. The aim still is to reduced the total number a little.


CK: How do you want to reach the reduction aim?

JJ: This mainly happens by reducing the number of births. The lowering of the total number as well as the number of births is intended. The German colleagues supported me a lot in this process and I am very thankful for this. A studbook always depends on the singular participants and never is the work of one person alone.


CK: How difficult was it to convince other zoos of the reduction? After all zoos like to present offspring to attract visitors.

JJ: In my opionion the decisive factor was the fact that possible offspring could not be placed in other zoos when reaching the sexual maturity – the offspring would have needed to stay at their place of birth. Back then I communicated this intensively and precisely to the keepers to explain the situation. I think that this open and admittedly very time consuming communication was a key in motivating zoos to help reduce the birth rate.



CK: In Germany a reformation of the mammal keeping guideline was introduced in 2014, which caused a severe increase in needed size for the enclosure as well as for the giraffe houses. In how far is this a problem for the future of keeping giraffes?

JJ: This has little until no influcence on my work. At least no zoo approached me that they want or need to give up their giraffes. I think the German zoos were and still are having a very high standard. Scientifically led zoos are permanently questioning their enclosures and adjust them if necessary. In my opinion the size of an exhibit does not say a lot about the quality of keeping the animals. Of course the size of each enclosure needs to be adequate for the animal and his behavior, but there are some other factors, which at least are as important. Thus I don’t like to see the mere size being put into attention that much.


CK: In the past bulls have been sent to a herd at an young age when reaching the sexual maturity and caused lots off offspring. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the population management if the boys first were sent to a group with young stallions and when breeding bulls are needed they’d be taken out of these groups at an higher age?

JJ: From a genetical point of view it does not matter if the bull is coming to a group of females at an age of 2.5 or of 5 years, the genes are the same. As mentioned, the breeding success is very good with the current way of management. In the nature the old and experienced bulls determined the reproduction until they are chased away from younger bulls. I don’t think that a stay in a bachelor group has any influence on the well being of an animal, in the wild it is a way for the young bulls to survive – rather kind of a necessary community. In the wild the animals fight to reproduce, in zoos they are selected by their genes. I take a look at how often the genetic lines are already represented and which are not as much used. Latter ones usually are preferred for breeding to keep the genes as much spread as possible over many years. The age or the group constellation they were brought up with does not really matter for this choice.


In the next days you can read part 2 of this interview, which mainly is about the situation of the animals in the wild.

Drill keeping in zoos – the current situation

Most people who know about drill monkey will have met them in a zoo. The chances for this are not too good though, there are only 18 drill keeping zoo worldwide – nearly all of them in Europa. Germany is offering the best chance for it with five zoos (Munich, Hanover, Osnabruck, Wuppertal and Saarbrucken).


The 16 European zoos reached a smaller milestone in 2019 when the number of kept species reached 100. At the end of the year an exact number of 103 drills was reached – a positive development considering that the number of 50 animals was not reached before 2005.


The current tendency goes to keeping drills together with other species such a forest buffalos in Osnabruck, brazza monkeys in Hanover or pygmy hippos and sitatunga in Valencia. Also it is tried to keep several males together in one group.


What is so special about working with drills? The best people to evaluate it are the zoo keepers who deal with them in their daily life. They are especially impressed by the character of the animals. Herbert Harder of Zoo Wuppertal considers the work with them as challenging as you need lots of empathy and diplomacy to gain the trust of the animals, which forces you to keep learning constantly. Also Kathrin Paulsen of Zoo Hanover uses a similar description when she says that all drills have an individual character, which has to be considered as well as their relationship and friendships – with the special challenge that their relations can change during the course of the time.


Maybe gain a personal impression about it when you have a chance to visit a drill keeping zoo nearby.


Calendar Pictures 2021

Here you can view all pictures of “Wildlife of Kenya 2021”. Needless to say that the pink sign on the ostrich-pictures has been edited for the print version.


Reticulated Giraffes

Many people know reticulated giraffes from zoos where this species can be found relatively often. Yet scientifically a lot is not known yet. Already the question whether it is a species or “only” a subspecies is not fully agreed upon. Traditionally giraffes are considered to be one species with nine subspecies with the reticulated giraffe being one of them. An extensive genetic analysis of the Senckenberg Institute delivered the result that giraffes have to be evaluated anew. Four different species were recognized, of which one is the reticulated giraffe.


For the reticulated giraffe this means that she is not one of about 100.000 giraffes but an own species with only about 8.700 animals left in the wild, which is listed as critically endangered. Their habitat is Northern Kenya, Southern Ethiopia and Somalia – even this is not correct anymore as we will realize in the next time.


Among the giraffes the reticulated giraffe optically differs more from the others than other kinds. The fur is also rather crème-colored but due to the large brown spots it appears as if they were brown with a white net as frame, while other giraffes seem to be light with dark spots. Any attentive zoo visitor can recognize that all giraffes have an individual pattern and no animal is equal to another one.


Male reticulated giraffes can grow up to six meters height and weigh 900 kg – and this as mere vegetarians. One giraffe requires about 50-60 kg food per day, which is the reason why giraffes are wandering around that much. Giraffes spend about half of their day with eating. Also in relation to other large animals giraffes have a very large heart that weighs 12 kg alone.


A widely known fact is that the long neck is held by seven vertebrae, the same number as humans have. Interesting are the ossicones. The males in the wild often have them blank and not covered with fur as they use them for fights against rivals. In contrast to females who merge together with other females and their offspring, bulls are roaming the savannah alone and do not accept other males near them. Only younger bulls who just left their moms join other juvenile bulls for a bachelor group.


Offspring is not a big problem for reticulated giraffes. The cow gives birth to a baby after gestation period of fifteen months. It does not take long until she is ready to mate again, so that the time between two births is about one and a half years. Grown up giraffes can defend themselves very well. Lions are the biggest threat but they put their own lives at risk when attacking a giraffe due to their long and powerful legs. The juveniles are much more endangered and can be killed by mid-size carnivores like cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs as well. Only every second giraffe reaches the maturity age. Much more dangerous for the species are human beings though by restricting the habitat of the animals and hunting them.

The Drill

Due to supporting Rettet den Drill (Save the Drill) he is in the focus of Charity Kalender again this year. But what kind of a monkey is the drill anyway? We put an eye on the animal, his situation in his countries of origin and his situation in the zoological gardens over the next weeks.


The Drill is at home in Nigeria, Cameroon and the island of Bioko, which belongs to Equatorial Guinea, and thus belong to the old world primates. Together with the mandrill he is summarized to the genus Mandrillus. While the mandrills are pretty famous due to the showy colorful face of the males, only few people have heard about the drills. The females of both species are even pretty similar, but the males mainly differ by the drills having a black face. The back of the male is very colorful though and shines in a variation of blue and purple – the more shining the higher is the rank of the animal. At a length of about 60 cm the males weigh about 30 kg, the females only a bit more than a third of it.


A drill group with about 25 individuals consists of a dominant male, a harem group of females and their offspring. Various group can merge together to a big squad of more than 100 individuals. At an age of 5 to 7 years the young males leave their birth group, while the females remain.


Drills live in the tropical rain forest. They are not tree residents though but mainly can be found on the ground. The forest offers protection for the animals and serves as food source. Drills are omnivorous and do not reject meat. Destruction of the rain forest for tropical wood and agriculture is the biggest threat for the primates, which are listed as endangered by IUCN. Drills play an important role for the ecosystem. By eating fruits they spread the seed in the forest and help trees and plants to grow. Probably about 5.000 animals are left in the wild, a massive loss of 50% over the last 30 years. Next to the loss of habitat they are hunted for their meat, or killed for planting banana, coconut or manioc plantations.

Calendar Cover 2021: Southern White Rhino at the Solio Ranch

Actually the cover picture has a sad background. It shows the Southern white rhino, a subspecies, which originally did not exist in Kenya. Thus, it is an invasive species but in this case it was intentionally imported. The picture was taken at the Solio Ranch – the place that imported Southern white rhinos to Kenya in 1980.


Why was it done? Kenya originally is home to the East African black rhino and the Northern white rhino. Black and white rhinos do not have a common territory – the version with the wide mouth uses it as lawn mower on the ground and eats grass, while the version with the peaky mouth uses it to eat from the bushes. Since 1966 the Solio Ranch was in ownership of a man, whose separated parts of his property – 55 km² – for wildlife as his wife asked him to. Rhinos were not home to this territory although the territory would have fitted both species. This was realized by the Kenyan government in 1970 when they suspected that despite of 20.000 black rhinos in the country they would not be able to protect the species from poachers. So they asked Solio Ranch to place some animals on their ground. During the next decade a total of 27 black rhinos were sent to Solio Ranch – during the same time the number of free living black rhinos in Kenya reduced by more than 90% to only 1.500 animals.


At Solio they recognized that the territory was also good for the white rhino. However, the Northern white rhinos were so few that the fight was basically already lost – in 2008 the last specimen died in the wild, only two females are living in custody today. So Solio imported 16 Southern white rhinos from South Africa in 1980. This story is an amazing success. All Southern white rhinos in Kenya stem from these 16 imports, such as mother and calf on the cover picture.


East African black rhinos are roaming here as well. The rhino offspring was not only sent to Kenyan national parks and other wildlife sanctuaries, but also to other countries like Malawi or Uganda. How fragile everything still is shows that also on Solio 30 rhinos were poached within five years at the beginning of this century – this however marked the beginning for more intense protection and monitoring.