Giraffes, the tallest animals on land, have become “vulnerable” to extinction. According to the latest Red List by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), giraffe population has declined by 40% in the last three decades. There were an estimated 152,000-163,000 giraffes in Africa in 1985. But today their number has shrunk to only about 98,000. There has been more emphasis on rhinos and elephants, while giraffes have gone under the radar.

Giraffes
Image source: TCBURNH / Pixabay

Giraffe is a ‘war fodder’ in war-torn areas of Africa

The IUCN said at a biodiversity meeting in Mexico on Wednesday that illegal hunting, loss of habitat, and civil unrest in many African countries were pushing giraffes towards a “silent extinction.” Though these majestic animals are still commonly seen in zoos, in the media, and on safari, most people are unaware that the giraffe has become “vulnerable” to extinction. The giraffe population was previously considered of “least concern” by the IUCN.

With the rising human population and expansion of farmland, the threatened giant is under severe pressure in its core ranges across the Central, East, and West Africa. Illegal hunting, civil strife, drought, and climate change are aggravating factors, said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the Red List. In war-torn areas like northern Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, giraffes are “war fodder” that can feed a lot of people.

Not all giraffe populations across Africa are declining, though. Some populations, mainly in Southern Africa, are growing. There are nine known subspecies of giraffes. Of them, five have seen a decline in their populations, one was stable, while the remaining three have grown in the last three decades. The outcomes are largely dependent on location. For instance, giraffe populations in Southern Africa have increased two to three times since 1985. In East Africa, some populations have declined by up to 95%.

We can still secure the long-term future of giraffes

The IUCN has urged governments to step up their conservation efforts to protect the planet’s wildlife. Biologists believe that certain local populations might not survive, but we still have time to act towards securing the long-term future of these creatures. In Southern Africa, the population has been increasing largely due to the management of game parks for tourists, which can be a lesson to other countries.

The IUCN said that the African gray parrot, known for mimicking human speech, has become endangered, one step worse than “vulnerable.” The Red List points out that 11% of about 700 other bird species that scientists assessed were at risk of extinction. A total of 860 plant and animal species have gone extinct, and another 68% have become extinct in the wild. Approximately 13,000 species have been categorized as endangered or critically endangered.