The shortest way from Belgium to Congo leads through Prague

Blog written by Karolína Brandlová. Read the full paper here.

It’s amazing to see my students getting their education in Prague, professionally growing and becoming part of the research and conservation teams across Africa. Our faculty is a sort of surprise, being situated in the heart of Europe and focused on tropical regions – Faculty of Tropical AgriSciences of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague.

When I graduated (decades ago) our faculty was almost fully oriented to agriculture in the tropics. Fifteen years ago, we decided together with my colleagues concerned about wildlife to open a new study branch focused on wildlife management, currently named Wild and Domestic Animal Production, Management and Conservation. Step by step we have developed a team able to combine extensive fieldwork across Africa with teaching specific subjects focused both on wildlife management and conservation and on sustainable animal production. We’ve always been teaching in English and have acquired students from different parts of the world, passionate to join our projects and become wildlife management and conservation professionals. The first author of this paper, Mathias D’haen, is one of them.

Fieldwork surrounded by elephant grass in Garamba National Park. Photo copyright – African Parks.

He came to Prague from Belgium, with a clear idea to work on a conservation project in Africa. It was not easy at the very beginning to find a place where he could go to fulfil his idea for his master thesis, with results which would have clear applied conservation impact. He finally decided to join the team at African Parks, managing the extremely challenging Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he spent a year as a trainee and became responsible for giraffe research, monitoring and conservation.

Garamba National Park is really remote. The last remnant of a once widespread Kordofan giraffe population is now completely isolated, with the nearest neighbouring population hundreds of kilometres away in South Sudan – and it is unsure if those giraffe even still exist there . Garamba is also the southernmost part of the Kordofan giraffe area of distribution, with considerably higher humidity than the rest of its range, resulting in different vegetation conditions and composition.

Kordofan giraffe standing up after immobilisation, fitted with a harness satellite collar. Photo copyright – African Parks.

Mathias became part of the team and, supported by experts from Giraffe Conservation Foundation, searched for answers to many crucial questions which may help set up effective conservation measures for this population. How many giraffe are, in fact, in Garamba? Where do they live and how they use the challenging environment? What should be done to ensure their long-term survival?

Kordofan giraffe in Garamba Nationa Park. Photo copyright – African Parks.

You can find some of the answers in the paper, and also some more questions which emerged during the data processing and result interpretation. We are all aware of the fact that the paper itself will not save the giraffe. However, the results of our study can be used to design dedicated conservation actions and make informed decisions. I am proud of Mathias who is still working with African Parks, and proud of many other students who are becoming conservation professionals able to conduct sound research which may be applied to effectively protect species and prevent species extinctions.

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