Africa’s Giraffes Are Quietly Disappearing

While conservationists have been ringing alarm bells around the world calling for the protection of charismatic animals like elephants, rhinos and big cats who are disappearing at staggering rates, Africa has yet another iconic species who is in danger of disappearing and in desperate need of attention.

As recently as the late 1990s, there were more than an estimated 140,000 giraffes in Africa roaming 21 countries across the continent, but despite their towering stature as the tallest mammal in the world and seeming prevalence, they have been quietly disappearing from the landscape over the last decade with little fanfare.

According to new research from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), their numbers have dropped more than 40 percent over the last 15 years leaving only an estimated 80,000 individuals, but their decline has gone largely unnoticed by the world until now. While researchers don’t want to diminish the threat to elephants, or other species, they note that by comparison there are still 450,000 African elephants left in the wild.

“People love giraffes but they are taken for granted,” Dr. Julian Fennessy, executive director of the GCF, told the Daily Express. “The population has crashed. It’s a silent extinction. People assume they are everywhere and that they are the same across the continent.”

Unfortunately for this species, that’s not the case. Currently, giraffes, who have nine distinct subspecies based on genetics and geographic location, are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but two subspecies – the West African giraffe and the Rothschild giraffe – have recently had their statuses changed to endangered.

Overall, they face the usual suspects when it comes to causes of species loss including habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation and conflicts with humans, in addition to poaching. Giraffes are killed for their meat and parts, but according to ABC News, a relatively new, and false, belief that consuming their brains and bone marrow can cure HIV/AIDS has added to the threats they now face.

Scientists note that our perception that they’re not in trouble and a lack of research have helped keep them off the radar when it comes to species we should be concerned about.

“I think they’re just overlooked,” David O’Connor, research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, told Scientific American. “They’re so pervasive. Giraffes are everywhere. Look at kids’ books, which are full of giraffes. They’re always in zoo collections. They’re easily visible, so you don’t think we have to worry about them. But we do.”

Now, Fennessy, who is also co-chair of the the IUCN Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group, and other researchers are putting together data on giraffe numbers to create an accurate census that they expect to publish next year. They hope more information will help raise awareness about the giraffe’s plight and lead to changes in their status that could help protect them.

So far efforts that have focused on protecting them have panned out. In the 1990s the population of the West African giraffe, who lives only in Niger, had dwindled down to a mere 50 individuals but laws banning hunting and poaching and partnerships with local communities are helping them start to rebound.

Hopefully new research and efforts from the conservation community focused on bringing giraffes into the spotlight and increasing protection can help keep these fascinating creatures from vanishing from our world.

For more info on work being done to protect them, visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

75 comments

Lindsay Kemp
Lindsay K2 years ago

Signed - thanks for sharing

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J. O.
J. O3 years ago

I am amazed at how some people are still caught up in "stupid-stition" and have not moved beyond "there is a magical elixir hiding in this animal which will magically bestow its properties on you when you eat it." In the case of some Spanish people, who ought to know better, the magical properties of the strength of the bull or the dog or whatever will fly over to your body. EH?!!! Now. sadly, there is a lack of education in Africa and in parts of Asia it seems like the government wants to deprive people of a solid education to keep them "on the farm." In this case, conservation groups who provide education and jobs for the locals are the best remedy.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

Every species in Africa is disappearing except humans. But, WHO, in their right mind made up the bull about eating their brains kill HIV. Worse yet, who would believe it? This is sick.

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Elizabeth Z.
Elizabeth Z4 years ago

So depressing. Giraffes are so cute. Would it be that disappointing if the human race disappeared instead?

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Marilyn M.
Marilyn M4 years ago

Thank you.

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Angela K.
Angela K4 years ago

Signed :-/

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Kamia T.
Kamia T4 years ago

I would guess that we'll ultimately find that every species around the world is silently going extinct as humans expand and expand where they were never meant to live; and hunt everything for stupid reasons. It's so sad. And the saddest reality is that we're only engineering our own extinction in the process.

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Angev GERIDONI
Angev GERIDONI4 years ago

ANOTHER THREAT on Petropolis animals, they need again your help
to stop a project of a vivarium for laboratory. You know what's
happened to the horses in the streets outside, imagine for pets in cages. Please sign the new petition here :
STOP Petropolis vivarium project

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Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants4 years ago

Sickening indeed!

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Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago

So sad

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