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It's the zoo's first effort to work with conservationists in East Africa, led by Sheri Horiszny, zoo deputy director

COURTESY PHOTO: SHERI HORISZNY/OREGON ZOO - The Oregon Zoo has partnered with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to protect the rare Rothschild's giraffes of East Africa.The Oregon Zoo hopes to make a difference half a world away.

The Rothschild's giraffe population in East Africa has dwindled to about 1,100 in the wild, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, poachers in Uganda have been killing them for food and hides, as lack of tourism money affects protection services.

It was time to act, said Sheri Horiszny, Oregon Zoo deputy director who also heads the nonprofit Giraffe Conservation Alliance.

The zoo has partnered with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to protect the giraffes; basically, the zoo pays the salary of a conservationist in Uganda, Isaac Mujaasi, who serves as project coordinator for the East Africa program.

Mujassi helps with monitoring and patrol units and community-based conservation of the Rothschild's — also known as Baringo or Ugandan — giraffes in Uganda's Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve and Kidepo Valley National Park.

Through the Oregon Zoo Foundation's symbolic adoption program Share the Care, the zoo has partnered with various organizations to protect species — orangutan and Asian elephants in Borneo, for example, and regional work on California condors, western pond turtles, checkerspot butterflies and northern leopard frogs. The zoo has three giraffes, two of them Masai, and it jumped at the chance to help the Rothschild's.

"They have some issues with habitat degradation, which has caused the overall decline," Horiszny said, of Ugandans. "And, they've lost jobs because many are connected with ecotourism. Because it's shut down, it creates a revenue problem for people and it's given an opening to poachers."

She added: "I've known Isaac since 2013, and he's super smart and wonderful. He's very well-connected with authorities on the ground, helps make good decisions about what to do and how to support them, and he's an educator by training."

Rothschild's males grow to about 18 feet, with about one-third of their size being neck.

"They look different. They tend to look like they're wearing white socks; they don't have spots up to their knees," Moriszny said.

She has dedicated her career to helping giraffes. They are special and unique animals, Horiszny said.

"They're the tallest land mammal and, because of their great height, they are the watch towers of the (African) savannah. Other animals look to them (for guidance), as they watch for prey. If a giraffe takes off, they will, too," she said. "They have beautiful eyes, long eyelashes. They have a horn but it's covered in hair, called an ossicone. They're very mellow, socially. Giraffes are more fluid with social relationships; males will fight occassionaly over a female in heat, but they're not territorial to the same degree (as other herd animals). They're super majestic looking."

The Uganda Wildlife Authority reports that poaching incidents have doubled over the same period from 2019.

"In these areas, with almost 80% of the people living below the poverty line, issues of wildlife conservation may not be a top priority due to food insecurity," Mujaasi said. "Giraffes and other wildlife are an attractive target for poaching."


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