How to capture a giraffe

-Dr. Annett Roug, One Health Field Diaries

In mid-September, HALI team members Goodluck Paul, Erasto Katowo and I assisted Ruaha National Park with giraffe captures. The chief veterinarian of Ruaha National Park, Dr. Epaphras Alex Muse is conducting a research project on giraffe skin disease. Giraffes with skin disease develop thick, crusty and chronic lesions on the back of the front legs, that can extend above and beyond the carpal joint. Affected giraffes may develop lameness, and be more susceptible to predation. Initial research by Dr. Muse and colleagues at Sokoine University of Agriculture revealed that the lesions contain a nematode (a type of worm). The epidemiology of the disease is still unclear. For the current effort, Dr. Muse was conducting a treatment trial on 12 giraffes.

Each giraffe was ear tagged with a small VHF transmitter to enable continuous monitoring of the animals. The HALI team assisted with the captures, the sampling, and the sample processing. All 12 study giraffes were successfully captured, treated, and marked.

Giraffes are really difficult to safely immobilize due to their long legs and neck and heavy body weight. After the giraffe is darted with a highly-calculated dose of a safe immobilization drug, the animal is brought to the ground by placing ropes around its legs. This is difficult work and requires a tightly coordinated team. Our roping team was led by the experienced wildlife technician Ally Kikula. Once safely on the ground, the legs and head of the giraffe were restrained and the neck placed on a sand bag to reduce the risk of aspiration. Blood samples, tissue biopsies, and skin scrapes were then taken as quickly as possible to reduce time the animal spends on the ground. The giraffes also received antibiotics from our veterinary team, treatment for the skin disease, and then ear tags were applied. The immobilization drug was then reversed and the animal assisted manually and with ropes to get back up on its legs and return to the wild.