The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the latest Red List of threatened species, has moved the giraffe from the ‘least concern’ category to ‘vulnerable’ due to a systematic drop in numbers over the last 30 years.
The IUCN Red List shows that numbers have dropped from about 155 000 in 1985 to 97 000 in 2015 – a drop of more than 30% over three generations. They’ve attributed this to a number of factors, namely loss of habitat, poaching and civil unrest occurring in many regions across Africa.
Despite the population growth experienced in parts of southern Africa, the organization has decided to move the species to the ‘vulnerable to extinction’ category as a result of falling numbers across eastern and central Africa. Dr Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN giraffe specialist group, says that in areas such as northern Kenya, Somalia, and the border of Ethiopia and South Sudan – areas currently experiencing unrest – the giraffe has become an attractive source of sustenance due to its size and relative ease to hunt. The large animal would be able to feed a large number of people.
He has called the decline in the population a ‘silent extinction’.
There is hope that the decline can be reversed. Chris Ransom from the Zoological Society of London has cited South Africa as an excellent example of wildlife management across different conservation areas. He also believes that with the correct conservation efforts, the giraffe species will be able to continue to survive in the wild.
The first step in this effort is recognizing the problem and moving the giraffe from being a species of ‘least concern’ to ‘vulnerable’.