The Silent Extinction

Map Design: Joseph Basnight; Map Data: O’Connor et al., 2019

Giraffe in Peril – The Silent Extinction

  • In the last 30 years, giraffes in Africa have declined from approximately 155,000 to under 100,000, according to the latest IUCN Red List assessment. 
  • There are fewer giraffe in the wild today than the African elephant or the hippo. In the wild, African elephants outnumber giraffe 4 to 1.
  • The devastating decline of the giraffe population has been so recent that very few people are even aware they are endangered. The giraffe are suffering a silent extinction.
  • Because giraffe have not gotten the attention they deserve, three of the four species of giraffe are considered Endangered, with two types Critically Endangered.
  • Less than half of all giraffe survive beyond their first year.
  • Giraffe have already become extinct in seven African countries.

What is causing the problem?

  • Loss of habitat caused by farming (raising of crops and livestock)
  • Hunting and killing for giraffe meat
  • Human-giraffe conflict due to giraffes eating farmers’ crops
  • Armed conflict / civil unrest
  • Timber harvesting
  • Oil and gas exploration and mining operations
  • Road building and urban development
  • Population isolation
    • Small groups of giraffes are often limited to isolated areas away from other giraffes, making it hard for them to reproduce.
  • Accidents resulting from automobiles; entrapment in electrical lines or other wires/cables; electrocution
  • Poaching for pelts and parts (used for trinkets, hunting trophies, etc.)
The following section details  giraffe populations by species and shows how very endangered so many types of giraffe are  through various regions of Africa.

Giraffe Population and Conservation Status by Species

masai-giraffe-patternMasai Giraffe

Previously the most populous giraffe with an estimated 71,000 three decades ago; less than half that number remain in the wild today.
Masai giraffe can be found across Kenya and Tanzania, with an isolated population (Masai Thornicroft) living in northeastern Zambia.

Scientific Name:  Giraffa tippelskirchi

Population:  Approximately 35,000 Masai giraffes remain

Population Trend:  Masai are RAPIDLY DECREASING

IUCN RED LIST STATUS:

  • Masai are ENDANGERED
  • Masai Thornicroft are VULNERABLE

northern-giraffe-patternNorthern Giraffe

Of the three subspecies of the Northern Giraffe known today, two are considered critically endangered and one is considered vulnerable.

Three subspecies exist across Eastern and Central Africa – the Kordofan giraffe, the Rothschild’s giraffe (now believed to be synonymous with Nubian giraffe), and the West African giraffe. The Northern giraffe are especially at risk because their range includes a number of war-ravaged countries, and their habitat is so fragmented.

Scientific Name:  Giraffa camelopardalis

Subspecies:

Kordofan –  G. c. antiquorum

Rothschild’s (Nubian) – G. c. camelopardalis

West African –  G. c. peralta

Population:  Approximately 5,600 Northern giraffe remain

Kordofan – 2,000

Rothschild’s (Nubian) – 3,000

West African – 600

Population Trend: Kordofan – RAPIDLY DECREASING Nubian (Rothschild’s) – SLIGHTLY INCREASING West African – SLIGHTLY INCREASING IUCN RED LIST STATUS:
  • Kordofan – CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
  • Nubian (Rothschild’s) – CRITICALLY ENDANGERED ‡
  • West African – VULNERABLE
IUCN Red List categorizes West African Giraffe as Vulnerable because of the Red List assessment criteria, and the population of WA Giraffe have increased from 49 in 1995 to 600 today, a huge improvement. But WA Giraffe are still the most imperiled type of giraffe, and are on the edge of extinction.

reticulated-giraffe-patternReticulated Giraffe

Restricted to just northern Kenya and some small populations in Ethiopia and Somalia, numbers of Reticulated giraffe have dropped significantly from ~36,000 three decades ago to ~15,780 today.

Fortunately, thanks to improved community and private land conservation, numbers across northern Kenya may have started to slightly stabilize.

Scientific Name:  Giraffa reticulata

Population:  Approximately 15,780 Reticulated giraffe remain

Population Trend:  DECREASING

IUCN RED LIST STATUS:  Reticulated giraffe are ENDANGERED

southern-giraffe-patternSouthern Giraffe

A giraffe success story!

Thanks to substantial conservation efforts, the two subspecies of Southern giraffe that live across Southern Africa make up over 50% of Africa’s total giraffe population.

One of two subspecies of Southern giraffe, the Angolan giraffe, was locally extinct in their namesake country Angola until a recent reintroduction program. Angolan giraffe populations have tripled over the past three decades!

Scientific Name:  Giraffa giraffa

Subspecies:

Angolan – G. g. angolensis

South African – G. g. giraffa

Population:  Approximately 54,750 Southern giraffe exist today

Angolan ~17,750

South African ~37,000

Population Trend:  INCREASING

IUCN RED LIST STATUS:

Angolan giraffe – LEAST CONCERN

South African giraffe – NOT ASSESSED ‡

*Not yet separately assessed by IUCN Red List, but based on current data, when assessed they fall into these categories

‡Nubian giraffe not yet assessed by IUCN as a single subspecies, but would be categorized as Critically Endangered. The South African giraffe has not been assessed by IUCN, but it is likely categorized as Least Concern.

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