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Giraffes are facing extinction, latest data show

The latest update of the red list of threatened species shows that giraffes are at risk of extinction, with nearly 40% of individuals lost in the last 30 years.

Bad news comes from the 13rd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Cancun, Mexico. The Red List of threatened Species, compiled by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), includes 85,604 species, 24,307 of which risk extinction. And giraffes are now among them.

giraffa
Giraffes roam wild in Central and Western Africa

Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN’s director general. “This red list update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought. Governments gathered at the UN biodiversity summit have the immense responsibility to step up their efforts to protect our planet’s biodiversity – not just for its own sake but for human imperatives such as food security and sustainable development.”

The slow decline of giraffes

The symbol of the latest red list update is giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), the world’s tallest living mammal. According to data, giraffe numbers have decreased by 40 per cent over 30 years. The species was listed as Least Concern, while now as Vulnerable. Its numbers have decreased from 151,702-163,452 individuals in 1985 to 97,562 in 2015.

Among the main causes of the decline are illegal hunting and habitat destruction, mainly in Central and Eastern Africa. The world population growth along with mining and agricultural lands are rapidly destroying the natural habitats of the species, pushing it towards extinction.

“Whilst giraffes are commonly seen on safari, in the media and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction,” said Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN’s giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group. “It is timely that we stick our neck out for the giraffe before it is too late”.

Along with giraffes, many birds are under threat

Researchers’ warning isn’t limited to giraffes. 11 per cent of the 742 newly discovered bird species risk extinction, bringing the number of threatened species to 11,121. 13 of these have been declared extinct, including the Pagan reed warbler (Acrocephalus yamashinae), the O’ahu ‘akepa (Loxops wolstenholmei), and the Laysan honeycreeper (Himatione fraithii). “As our knowledge deepens, so our concerns are confirmed: unsustainable agriculture, logging, invasive species and other threats – such as illegal trade – are still driving many species towards extinction,” said Ian Burfield, coordinator at BirdLife.

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