Giraffes now rarer than elephants
The giraffe is the tallest land animal. Now, sadly, it is at risk of extinction. That news has come from biologists.
The giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 percent. It has happened in just 30 years. Scientists put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide. The scientists have called the giraffe "vulnerable." That's two steps up the danger ladder. Its previous designation was a species of least concern. In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes. But in 2015 the number was down to 97,562. That is according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
At a biodiversity meeting Dec. 7 in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species. The organization lowered the threat level for seven species on its "Red List" of threatened species. Scientists consider it the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing.
The giraffe is the only mammal whose status changed on the list this year. Scientists blame habitat loss.
While everyone worries about elephants, Earth has four times as many of them as giraffes. That is according to Julian Fennessy and Noelle Kumpel. They are co-chairs of the specialty group of biologists that put the giraffe on the IUCN Red List. They both called what's happening to giraffes a "silent extinction."
"Everyone assumes giraffes are everywhere," said Fennessy. He is the co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
But they're not, Fennessy said. Until recently, biologists hadn't done a good job assessing giraffes' numbers and where they can be found. The giraffes have been lumped into one broad species. However, there are nine separate subspecies.
"There's a strong tendency to think that familiar species (such as giraffes, chimps, etc.) must be OK. Because they are familiar and we see them in zoos," said Duke University conservation biologist Stuart Pimm. He wasn't part of the work. But he has criticized the IUCN for not putting enough species on the threat list. "This is dangerous."
Fennessy blamed shrinking living space as the main culprit in the declining giraffe population. It is worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into giraffe areas. This is especially in central and eastern Africa. Giraffe numbers are plunging most in central and eastern Africa. They are being offset by increases in southern Africa, he said.
This has fragmented giraffe populations. They have shrunk in size with wild giraffes gone from seven countries. The countries include Burkina Faso, Eritrea and Guinea. They also include Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal. This is according to Kumpel of the Zoological Society of London.
The IUCN says 860 plant and animal species are extinct. Another 68 are extinct in the wild. Nearly 13,000 are endangered or critically endangered. The next level is vulnerable. That is where giraffes were placed. The levels are followed by near threatened and least concerned.
The status of two snake species worsened. The ornate ground snake, which lives on the tiny island of Saint Lucia, deteriorated from endangered to critically endangered. The Lacepede's ground snake of Martinique was already critically endangered. Not it's considered possibly extinct. So is the trondo mainty. It is a river fish. It lives in Madagascar.
But there is also good news for some species. The Victoria stonebasher is a freshwater fish in Africa. It went from being considered endangered to least concerned. It now has a stable population. An African plant, the acmadenia candida, was declared extinct. It has been rediscovered. It is now considered endangered. Another freshwater fish is the ptychochromoides itasy. It hadn't been seen since the 1960s. It too, has been rediscovered. Small numbers of them have been found in Africa's Sakay River. The fish now is considered critically endangered.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What makes giraffes seem familiar?
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