Defenders of Wildlife was just one host to the final training for Class 6 of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders in Washington D.C. Twenty-four fellows from five countries came together to give final presentations on the wildlife conservation projects that have dominated our past 18 months. Additionally we had the opportunity to engage in professional development sessions and mentor meetings with top leaders from World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, IFAW, and (under the current political climate) a sobering visit from Dan Ashe, then Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
I was privileged to join my five teammates for a presentation about our groundbreaking assessment of international trade in giraffe, which came only days before the IUCN publicly announced the uplisting of all giraffe (sub)species to Vulnerable. With only 18 months to design and implement a conservation project, our strategy was to take a transdisciplinary approach, leveraging science, media, art, and communications to catalyze public interest in giraffe and their steep 40% decline over the past 20 years.
An international communications strategy and full media brief was developed for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), a Namibia-based nonprofit research and education organization instrumental to in situ efforts to better understand emerging genetic research that suggests giraffe are actually four distinct species – a finding which, if confirmed, would drastically shift our understanding of threats to wild giraffe populations. Leading up to the IUCN announcement, media coverage was picked up by top news outlets, ranging from the BBC to Huffington Post. This was further augmented by the premiere of the full length documentary Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants from director Tom Mustill by the BBC (in the UK) and PBS (in America), showcasing the field work of GCF. Original artwork from illustrator Roger Roth was commissioned for a social media campaign highlighting the plight of giraffe in the wild, and driving online traffic to the flurry of news stories about the emerging research.
Beyond the successful public engagement and education efforts, we used Panjiva – an international database of trade activity – to review more than 13,000 records of trade in animal parts between Africa, China, and the United States. The results were combined with survey responses from wildlife and conservation professionals from 13 countries documenting the prevalence of giraffe as bushmeat in local markets, and the popularity of pelts, hair, and bone used in local crafts and medicines. The results of this first-ever trade assessment are currently in review for publication in peer reviewed journals.