That’s how much giraffe numbers have dropped, right under the world’s noses, mainly due to habitat loss and poaching. So how is it that such a decrease in the wild population of an iconic animal has completely passed us by? There are now only an estimated 80,000 giraffes left in the wilds of Africa, yet they are still listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. It seems like this has been largely unnoticed by the conservation community, until recently.
A new Natural World documentary that aired recently highlighted the plight of this magnificent animal and efforts being taken to ensure its continued survival. It is deeply worrying that such an unique animal is now extinct in7 of its range countries, without anyone batting an eyelid. If we also compare the giraffe to the African elephant, of which there are 5 times as many, it seems crazy that we have not applied the same attention to its predicament. Efforts to conserve elephants have been well documented for decades, with it being well known that they are primarily poached for their ivory; yet no one seems to know that giraffes face the same uncertain future due to the bush-meat trade and habitat loss.
Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants showed the efforts of Dr Julian Fennessy, Executive Director of Giraffe Conservation Foundation, as he attempted to relocate 20 Rothschild’s giraffes in Uganda across the River Nile to establish a new population, as their current home was under threat due to the fact that it was situated on ground that contained the majority of Uganda’s known oil, with plans to drill there coming to fruition. This programme also highlighted some interesting scientific research findings.
Currently, there are nine known subspecies of giraffe, although it is thought that there could actually be five separate species after genetic research was carried out on all giraffe populations by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. This is yet to be proved beyond doubt, but it is likely that the results of this research will be published soon. Of these nine subspecies, three (West African, Rothschild’s and Nubian) have populations of less than a 1000 in the wild. The Nubian giraffe is particularly endangered due to the fact that fewer than 250 remain in the wild, with only a small captive population in a UAE zoo.
I think the fact that these subspecies are currently grouped into only one species is part of the problem with regards to efforts to conserve them. There is such a distinct difference in population sizes between them, with half of the entire giraffe population being Masai giraffes, that this potentially hides the predicament of the much rarer subspecies. If the genetic research can confirm that some of the subspecies are actually separate species, this could go a long way to directing conservation efforts to the populations that are most in need of human intervention in order to ensure their continued survival.
It is time to stop believing that giraffes are everywhere and always will be, as it is simply not true. Now is the time to ensure that the world’s tallest animal is not left to its silent extinction. It is time to give the humble giraffe the attention it deserves.