Rothschild’s giraffe: Murchison Falls National Park’s treasure

By Gilbert Mwijuke

So, what’s the big deal about the Rothschild’s giraffe? You may ask. Well, this giraffe subspecies is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as ‘near threatened’, with only about 1,660 individuals still alive worldwide – just a stage away from extinction.

What’s more, according to a 2018 Rothschild’s giraffe population census, an estimated 75 per cent of these magnificent giraffes reside in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, northwest of the country, while the rest reside in Kenya’s woodlands.   

But now with Murchison Falls National Park teetering on the verge of destruction thanks to the Ugandan government’s planned construction of a hydro power dam in the park, not to mention oil drilling activities on its western edge, conservationists fear that the population of the extraordinarily elegant Rothschild’s giraffes could plummet further in the coming years.

Just like most iconic wild animals on the verge of extinction, humans remain the biggest threat to the Rothschild’s giraffe’s existence. Habitat loss due to agriculture, mining and other activities that result in human encroachment on their natural habitat have contributed greatly to their dwindling numbers.

So, if action is not taken as soon as possible, the world’s tallest land animal faces the threat of being wiped off the face of earth, and future generations might have to only see them in encyclopedias and museums.

It’s as well that the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the government agency in charge of the country’s wildlife conservation efforts, is planning to save the Rothschild’s giraffe from possible extinction by translocating some individuals to Lake Mburo National Park and other conservation areas where they can survive safely – just in case…

What makes the Rothschild’s giraffe unique?

First and foremost, this giraffe subspecies is known as Rothschild’s in honour of Walter Rothschild, a British banker, politician, zoologist and founder of the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring, currently a division of the Natural History Museum.

Due to his extraordinary work in the fascinating world of zoology, Dr Rothschild had many animal and insect species named after him: 17 mammal species, over 150 species of insects and 58 species of birds, among many others.

The Rothschild’s giraffe is also known as Baringo giraffe, a name that originates from Lake Baringo in Kenya, an area that habours a significant number of these majestic species.

Even though this giraffe subspecies resemble the Masai giraffe, it’s quite easy to distinguish it from its cousins. Compared to the Masai giraffe, for instance, the Rothschild’s ecotype is a bit pale and the orange-brown patches are sharp in shape and less jagged. Also, creamier hue characterizes its connective channel, and, unlike its reticulated cousins, the Rothschild’s giraffe features no markings on its lower leg.

But what mostly makes the Rothschild’s giraffe stand out from the rest is its height: this subspecies is usually taller than the rest, measuring up to 19.3 feet! In fact, its height comes in handy when it comes to protection from predators in the wild as it easily sees them from a distance and warns its herd and other grazers in the vicinity, hence the moniker “watchtower”.