January 3rd, 2017 by James Ayre
In conjunction with the decline of practically every other megafauna animal still in the world, giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) numbers have fallen by around 40% over just the last 30 years, according to new data from the IUCN.
To put that quantitatively — there were between 151,702-163,452 giraffes in 1985; and around 97,562 giraffes in 2015. That decline represents a 36-40% decline in numbers; which accompanied a vast decrease in range-extent for the species as well.
Not that it’s a particularly useful way of looking at it, but it’s should probably be noted anyways — the giraffe is currently the tallest land mammal in the world, it’s extinction would mean the end of the tallest land mammal in the world. Just as the likely extinction of the cheetah over the coming century will mean the absolute end of the fastest land animal currently in the world (there are only ~7,100 cheetahs left, and they have now lost 91% of their historic range).
The loss of outlier species (as far as various characteristics go), doesn’t necessarily mean anything ecologically, as compared to the loss of less conspicuous species, but it does seem to mean something to the human mind. Does it mean enough to lead to a change in modern behavior, and thus to the aversion of the extinction of the giraffe? That’s a very open question… I’ll say that I’m very skeptical.
As giraffes don’t necessarily need the sort of expansive territories that an animal like the cheetah does, there are possibly some conservation strategies that could prove effective for the short term preservation of the species. But those will require funding and political will…
Here’s more on the new data: “The growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations. Illegal hunting, habitat loss, and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction. Of the 9 subspecies of giraffe, 3 have increasing populations, whilst 5 have decreasing populations and 1 is stable.”
So, not an immediately dire situation, but the species does seem to be losing significant genetic diversity every year at goes by, and with it species viability. Action will need to be taken if the species is to avoid extinction over the next century.
In related news, the new IUCN Red List assessments also made note of the dire situation facing the wild African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), and also a number of “cage bird” species in Asia. All of these species are facing significant and rapid decline in numbers due to the “pet” trade, along with habitat loss.
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