Giraffe suffers silent extinction

Often seen on safari and in wildlife conservation areas, people are unaware that the giraffe is facing extinction.

24 June 2019 | Environment

World Giraffe day is celebrated annually on 21 June to help mobilise support and raise awareness of the threats faced by giraffes around Africa that have led to plummeting numbers and the risk of extinction of the world tallest land animal.

Described as a silent extinction by scientists, the Giraffe Conservation Fund (GCF) highlights that only an estimated 111 000 giraffe remain in the wild, but highlights that everyone can join efforts under way to save the species from going extinct.

The species' numbers have dropped by a “staggering 30% over the last 30 years alone and likely more than 90% in the last century,” the GCF warns.

The organisation states “giraffe are already extinct in at least seven countries in Africa”.

The GCF cautions the “silent extinction is happening before our eyes” but stresses that with urgent action now the giraffe can be saved.

Threats faced by the giraffe include the combined impacts of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation, human population growth, poaching, disease, war and civil unrest throughout Africa.

Many threats arise from direct, indirect or perceived competition for resources with humans and their livestock, the GCF notes.

As a result of the drop in population, the giraffe has been listed as vulnerable to extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species in 2016.

“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,” Julian Fennessy, co-director and co-founder of GCF as well as co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group, said in 2016.

This year, World Giraffe Day is dedicated to Twiga Tracker, the largest GPS satellite tracking programme of giraffe.

Another crucial tool for giraffe conservation is GiraffeSpotter.org, an online platform employing machine learning to identify individual giraffe from photographs collected by researchers and citizen scientists.

The GCF explained “to save giraffe in Africa, we need to gain a better understanding of how many giraffe there are, where they live, and how they move and use their habitat, in particular in areas where they share it with people.”

Twiga Tracker aims to track a minimum of 250 giraffe throughout their range in Africa with innovative GPS satellite solar units developed and manufactured in Africa by Savannah Tracking in Kenya.

At a unit cost of US$2 500 (N$35 800) this is an ambitious goal and GCF aims to raise a total of US$1 million (N$14.3 million) to make Twiga Tracker a success.



Unique

Amongst many unique facts of giraffe, the GCF explains there are four distinct species of giraffe in Africa, namely the northern giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis, the southern Giraffa giraffa, reticulated giraffe G. reticulata and the Masai giraffe G. tippelskirchi.

Other giraffe facts include that just like human fingerprints, no two giraffe have the same coat pattern.

The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world and even new born giraffe are taller than most humans.

Female giraffe give birth standing up and their young fall about 2 metres to the ground and can stand up within an hour of birth.

A giraffe's neck is too short to reach the ground. To drink, giraffe first have to splay their forelegs and/or bend their knees, and only then can they lower their necks to reach the surface of the water.

Giraffe only drink once every few days. Even when water is readily available, evidence shows that many giraffe do not drink regularly – sometimes not at all.

Like humans, the giraffe only has seven vertebrae in their necks.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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