The tallest land animal on the planet is plummeting at an alarming rate and heading towards extinction.
A long, patterned neck stretches out into the prickly foliage of an umbrella acacia tree. Regally crowned with furry ossicones, her long eyelashes bat in the sun as she gracefully walks to a branch and tears the leaves and buds from their thorny stems.
Their place in the ‘charismatic megafauna’ group has ensured they’ve received a lot of attention from society, in culture and art to children’s books and zoos. Their omnipresence in society has perhaps ironically distracted the world from examining the state of their real existence in the wild until recently.
The giraffe are currently heading towards extinction, with populations having fallen by nearly 40% over the last 30 years, from approximately 160,000 in 1985 to about 97,500 in 2015 due to widespread habitat loss, poaching for bushmeat and trophy hunting.
With less than 100,000 left in the wild, this iconic species now exists in a state as vulnerable as the African elephant, whose population is approximately 415,000.
Last year, based on the latest research findings, the IUCN escalated the giraffe’s classification from ‘least concern’ to ‘vulnerable to extinction’.
Widespread habitat loss, poaching for bushmeat and trophy hunting are affecting their survival.
Last year, the IUCN Red List classification for the giraffe changed from 'least concern', skipped 'near threatened' status and moved to ‘vulnerable’. Currently, only 1 species of giraffe is recognised, along with 9 subspecies. However, mounting evidence has shown that there are in fact 4 different species of giraffe: the southern, the Maasai, the reticulated and the northern giraffe. It was revealed that they are genetically disparate and none of these species can interbreed in the wild. If IUCN classifies them as such, 3 out of 4 of these species would be given a graver conservation status.
Only 1 species of giraffe is currently recognised, however increasing evidence shows that there could be 4 different species, which would render 3 out of 4 giraffe as endangered or critically endangered.
In various countries, giraffe are shot for sport in trophy hunting. Recently in the US, conservationists filed a legal petition to have giraffe classified as endangered to prevent the giraffe from being brought back by trophy hunters, whom have imported more than 1.26 million various wildlife trophies in less than a decade.
In Central Africa, giraffe are poached for their tails for cultural practices. Giraffe are also killed for their skin and hair for jewellery and beliefs that consuming giraffe brain can cure certain diseases.
Giraffes are one of many species undergoing a population decline in the current global extinction crisis. In under 40 years, the vertebrate population of the world has more than halved.
They are but one of many species that are undergoing a decline, and a very stark reminder that the world is undergoing a global extinction crisis: the worst the world has seen in about 65 million years. According to WWF’s Living Planet Index, within about 40 years, the total population of vertebrate species has more than halved.
During the meantime, these imperiled creatures continue to move elegantly and silently through Africa, amidst all that threatens their existence. Their heads held up tall and high, and now, more than ever, truly a limited edition.
The forgotten ones: a silent extinction.
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As featured on Huffington Post.