My name is April Turnbull and I am a Herbivore Keeper from Wellington Zoo. I am days away from embarking on the greatest adventure of my life! I am about to travel to Africa to support the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in the field tracking and observing the desert-dwelling Giraffe of Namibia.

April and Zahara the Giraffe

Herbivore Keeper, April with Zahara, one the of the Zoo's female Giraffes

The project I will be directly involved with is the first long-term ecological monitoring effort for the Angolan Giraffe, of which only 13,000 remain in the wild. This opportunity will allow me to travel with GCF lead researchers, collecting and collating data on population dynamics, behaviour and genetics. The programme collects, collates and disseminates information that is used locally and internationally for government and NGO’s to help with the conservation and management of the Angolan Giraffe. This research is being utilised to develop the first-ever Giraffe Conservation Status Assessment in Namibia. The GCF is the only NGO that focus solely on the conservation of Giraffe across the entirety of Africa. The project I am supporting is only one of many GCF programmes put in place to ensure the long-term success of Giraffe in the wild.

Giraffe numbers have plummeted over the past three decades with a drop of approximately 40% of the population. That means that there are now less than 100,000 individuals across the entirety of the African continent. There is a large number of factors impacting on Giraffe populations in the wild, including but not limited to habitat loss, habitat degradation and fragmentation, human population growth and illegal hunting activities. Historically there has been limited research or conservation actions taken to identify the key factors contributing to the Giraffe population decline and to prevent further loss. The combination of environmental factors, human disturbance and limited information, has led to the frightening outcome we now face - the potential loss of one of the world’s most incredible megafauna.

At Wellington Zoo, I have the privilege of working alongside our two Giraffes, Zahara and Zuri.  These two characters inspire me every day to be an advocate for their species. In my role as a Zookeeper, I have the ability to empower and educate visitors about Giraffe conservation efforts and what they can do to help. But now, thanks to the generous support of the Wellington Zoo Trust and the Conservation Fund, I am able to follow in the footsteps of my conservation heroes and put myself in the field to directly contribute to the conservation of one of the world’s most incredible megafauna.

“I am about to trade the comfort of my own bed, for a roll-out foam mat.”

Growing up, I was inspired by wildlife warriors and conservationists such as Dr. Jane Goodall, Sir David Attenborough, Dianne Fossey, David Sheldrick and even the more comedic of characters, Steve Irwin. I was (and still am) in constant awe and admiration of their courage and determination to not only be a voice for those without voices, but to actively put themselves in the field - to “walk the walk” so to speak and be advocates for wildlife and conservation. Only now that I am days out from my own conservation mission, do I begin to understand exactly how strong, courageous and incredible those people are.

I am about to trade the comfort of my own bed, for a roll-out foam mat. The safety of my four sturdy walls, for the sheer fabric of a tent. The security of the known, for the adventure of a lifetime in support of the world’s tallest land mammal, of which is facing a silent crisis.

 

Zahara with April

April feeds Zahara at the Giraffe Viewing Deck in Wellington Zoo

 

“I cannot wait to experience everything this opportunity has to offer.”

Only now that I am privileged enough to be in this position, do I understand the bravery and courage it takes to put oneself in the field in the name of conservation. I continuously remind myself, that in order to grow, you must go outside of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Well, challenge accepted. I cannot wait to experience everything this opportunity has to offer. The harsh desert sun on my skin. The hot sand beneath my feet. The sight of wild Giraffes browsing in such a diverse yet challenging environment. I’m sure there will be tears, of many kinds, but I am ready to embrace it all.

In the words of Dr. Jane Goodall, “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference”and I am ready to make a difference.