The decline of the giraffe has been dubbed the “silent extinction” because of giraffes’ quiet nature and the lack of worldwide attention. PHOTO:  © IFAW/B. HollwegThe International Union for the Conservation of Nature has announced in their latest update of the “Red List of Threatened Species” that giraffe numbers have fallen more than 40 percent in just the past 30 years, warranting a “vulnerable” listing. This shocking decline of the world’s tallest animals has been dubbed the “silent extinction” because of giraffes’ quiet nature and due to the fact that they are disappearing with little or no public understanding or outcry.

While I was getting my undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, I was fortunate enough to travel to East Africa and participate in an on-going study of wild giraffe populations in the grasslands of Kenya. Every morning, I woke at 5 am and was dropped off in the middle of the wilderness with a sack lunch, a whistle for emergencies, and a notebook. I would then find and follow resident giraffe herds, collecting data on their eating habits and behaviors to determine if the herds had reached the carrying capacity for the ecosystem. It was important to understand whether they were competing for limited natural resources to the detriment of their health and reproductive success.

In 1985 there were thought to be more than 151,000 giraffes in Africa; as of 2015, it is estimated that only 97,500 remain.

The factors leading to this sharp decline are numerous and varied. They include killing for bushmeat, civil unrest in giraffe range countries leading to little or no protections for wildlife, and habitat loss due to urbanization and habitat conversion for agriculture. Other causes of mortality include trophy hunting, trade in giraffe body parts, and collisions with vehicles and powerlines. Additionally, there has been a new disease reported in some giraffe populations resulting in a layer of thick callouses that covers the giraffe’s hide. So far this disease has not been proven to interfere with the giraffe’s essential needs or significantly impact their health, but it needs to be studied.

With suitable habitat and adequate protection from poachers – combined with public awareness campaigns and community engagement – some giraffe subpopulations have been able to recover or increase. However, this is a situation that requires much closer observation, and where possible, new protections for this iconic species from unnecessary threats and preventable deaths.

Because giraffes cannot speak for themselves, IFAW and our partners will be looking for ways to stop this “silent extinction.” Look for ways that you can help support us in these efforts in the near future.

–JF

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Article source: IFAW

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