Traditionally, the tallest mammal on Earth has not received as much attention as other wild African species such as elephants and rhinos. So, with today being World Giraffe Day, we’d like to shine the spotlight on this graceful creature which is becoming increasingly threatened.
Dubbed the ‘silent extinction’, giraffe populations have quietly been declining over the past two decades. Once teeming across Africa, now fewer than 100,000 mature individuals are left on the continent - a 40% decline since 1980. Like so many other threatened African species, giraffe numbers are dwindling because of climate change, habitat loss, urban encroachment, poaching, and the effects of war and civil unrest.
Considered ‘easy prey’ by poachers, these gentle giants are especially targeted for the bushmeat trade in countries where unrest and lax law enforcement prevails. Trade in giraffe ‘products’ is also rife, and in some regions, giraffe bone marrow and brains are now being consumed as a ‘cure’ for HIV/AIDS.
It wasn’t until 2019 that the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) finally agreed to protect giraffes under an Appendix ll listing, to regulate international trade in giraffe parts. Before that, an average of one giraffe a day was imported into the United States (US) by trophy hunters, who enjoy the exotic prize that giraffes represent.
Half of all the giraffe species and sub-species are listed as critically endangered and endangered. The most endangered of all is the Nubian giraffe found in northeast Africa, of which only 450 are left. What’s more, the entire giraffe genus has declined overall in eight out of its 21 range countries.
“It’s time we take notice of this iconic African species and do whatever we can to save it from sliding into extinction,” says Adrienne West of Animal Survival International (ASI). “Until now, there has been limited conservation research on giraffes. ASI is committed to supporting giraffe conservation wherever possible.”
New findings show that there could be nine species and subspecies of giraffe. This information is still under review and will hopefully soon be taken into consideration for future conservation assessments, giving each giraffe their own taxonomical status and mandate for greater conservation action.