African giraffes may face extinction as numbers 'plummet', leading conservationists warn

Giraffe experts have warned that a lack of attention and resources have seriously affected numbers of Africa's iconic mammal

Giraffes, the gentle giants of the African plain, could be facing extinction as Conservationists warn that poachers and bush meat hunters are causing their numbers to “plummet”.

The overall number of giraffes has fallen by 40 per cent in the last 15 years, reducing the 140,000 giraffe population in Africa to fewer than 80,000.

In comparison, according to new research, there are roughly 450,000 African Elephants. These animals are classed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as a species that ‘faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.’

Giraffe Conservation Foundation's (GCF) Executive Director and Conservation Scientist Dr Julian Fennessy told The Independent: “Giraffe numbers across their range are plummeting with a few exceptions.”

The GCF has examined giraffe numbers over the past five years, concluding that unlike many other iconic African animals – such as lions or elephants – there has been no sustained attempt to protect giraffes.

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A tower of giraffes at sunrise in the Mashatu game reserve in Botswana in 2010

“This trend is alarming and we have to act now to turn this situation around while it is still possible,” he said.

Many species of giraffe are so distinct as to be classed as a species in their own right – as has happened to the endangered mountain gorilla.

If the West African giraffe was granted similar protection the animal would immediately become the most endangered large mammal in Africa.

Dr Anne Dagg, a leading Canadian expert, added her voice to those calling for greater protection for the animal, labelling the situation faced by the long-limbed herbivores, “incredibly awful”.

“There are nine different races and we’re probably going to lose some of them. It’s a terrible situation. They could become extinct,” she told The Times.

Two of these sub-species are already protected by the IUCN Red List, which lists them as ‘least concern’, but adds: “A recent preliminary population estimate suggests a decline in the total population has taken place which, if substantiated, could mean that the species will warrant listing in a higher category of threat.”

The assessment continues that although some sub-species appear to be increasing, others are in a “more precarious position”. The entire species could be reclassified under an audit to be completed next year.

In 2010 a comprehensive assessment of giraffe numbers was abandoned because of lack of resources.

It is believed that numbers of the gentle herd animal are plummeting thanks to locals hunting the docile animal for their flesh, and poachers who sell the heads of the animal for a high price.

Additionally, some Tanzanians believe that the bone marrow and flesh of a giraffe can cure Aids.

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