The Fall of Gentle Giants
Yesterday marked the addition of the giraffe to the vulnerable species list. It seems uneducated to say that many did not expect this to happen, even after the giraffe’s conservation status at a satisfying ‘least concern,’ until recently. Giraffe population numbers have been in subtle decline for 30 years for reasons identical to famed extinct predecessors.
In 2014, there were approximately 80,000 giraffes left in Africa, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. In 1999, there were an estimated 140,000 giraffes. To understand how giraffes got to vulnerable status requires the first step of debunking the stereotype that giraffes are abundant. This is complicated as they are a common animal in zoos, widely recognised as a famous figure of African wildlife and safaris feature them frequently. In recent years, they have suffered silently and if this issue has taught us anything it’s that perceptions don’t count.
Giraffes live solely on the continent of Africa where currently there are just 9 small pockets where each sub-species live. This is worrying not only as the locations make conservation increasingly difficult; 9 areas from now on need dramatic protection rather than just one. The species pockets are situated in South Africa, East Africa (a particularly big population) and small parts in Central Africa. It is typical of the start of a cycle ending in extinction. Giraffes are usually found in groups, though this is no longer the case as a “group” is defined as “a collection of individuals that are less than a kilometre apart and moving in the same general direction”.
Numbers have dwindled to 40% of what they were 30 years ago. Deforestation and poaching with the global warming are the three predominant causes. The meat industry from the Western world has contributed heavily to giraffe decline; clearing much of the giraffe’s unique habitat for farmland and cattle grazing. To some people, the cycle of deforestation and farming may be the only way of earning a living – there is no other choice.
In October, research found the number of wild creatures was on track to fall by two-thirds by 2020, compared to 1970. Poaching has risen despite vast international efforts and is usually done to large groups. Tackling these giant, infamous contributors will require a lot of effort, especially a growing population. Civil unrest has also caused much of the habitat destruction, which will be difficult to resolve quickly.
The next move for giraffes in unknown but this has highlighted the fact that any animal is at risk in this world, even one that has been part of the Earth for a millennial, and so beloved it is known to many.
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