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9th December 2016

Giraffes threatened with extinction

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has announced that giraffes are now listed as "vulnerable" after a huge population decline over the last 30 years.


giraffe population future


The iconic giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), one of the world's most recognisable animals and the tallest land mammal, is now threatened with extinction. The species, which is widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated subpopulations in west and central Africa, has moved from "Least Concern" to "Vulnerable" – due to a dramatic 38% decline from 157,000 individuals in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015.

The growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations. Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction. Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, three have increasing populations and one is stable, but five have decreasing populations.

In September of this year, a genetic analysis showed that the genus giraffe, previously thought to contain one extant species, actually consists of four. For this update of the Redlist, however, the IUCN stuck with the traditional definition of one species with nine subspecies.

These animals are undergoing a "silent extinction", says Dr Julian Fennessy, who co-chairs the IUCN's giraffe specialist group. "If you go on a safari, giraffes are everywhere," he told BBC News. "While there has been great concern about elephants and rhinos, giraffes have gone under the radar but, unfortunately, their numbers have been plummeting – and this is something that we were a little shocked about, that they have declined by so much in so little time."


From left to right: Extinct (EX), Extinct in the wild (EW), Critically endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU), Near threatened (NT), Least concern (LC).
Graphic credit: Peter Halasz


A resolution adopted at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September called for action to reverse the decline of the giraffe.

"South Africa is a good example of how you can manage wildlife," says Chris Ransom from the Zoological Society of London. "There is a lot of moving of animals between different conservation areas; it is a very different scenario than in most of the rest of Africa."

"I think giraffes can survive, with the right conservation efforts, and we can ensure that the animals do live in the wild. There are a lot of cases of success in conservation. The giraffes could be one."


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