Giraffes could soon be listed as endangered to prevent “silent extinction”

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Hayley Spencer
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Giraffes could be listed as endangered thanks to a petition by conservationists in the US. It’s the result of a saddening and dramatic decline in the population of the elegant African animals.

The petition – which was filed by five environmental groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare Humane Society International – says that we are at risk of the “silent extinction” of the world’s tallest land animal.

In a bid to combat this, they have asked for giraffes to be offered endangered species protection, reports The GuardianIt come after the organisation deemed them ‘vulnerable’ late last year on the Red List, which guides conservation.

There has been a 40% drop in the number of giraffes in the sub-Saharan Africa since the 1980s, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This means there are now less of them than there are elephants, although the decline has been less noticeable due to frequent news stories about elephant and rhino poaching.

Destruction of giraffe habitats, as well as illegal hunting for bush meat, have been cited for the decline, but so-called trophy hunting is highlighted as a preventable contributor to their recent and surprising decline. The issue received widespread media attention late last year when a 12-year-old girl from Utah sparked controversy by posing alongside a dead giraffe killed on safari.

This was far from an isolated incident: in 2015, animal rights enthusiast Ricky Gervais raised awareness of the issue when he shared a shocking photo of another American teen smiling next to a dead giraffe.

He captioned it: “What must've happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal and then lie next to it smiling?”

Given the prevalence of American trophy hunters, the petition states that the US is “uniquely positioned to help conserve these tall, graceful and iconic animals.” It suggests that regulating trophy imports would be a huge step in helping with conservation.

“Considering the ongoing threats to giraffes and their small remaining populations, now is the time for Endangered Species Act protections for this seriously and increasingly imperiled species,” it states.

Sir David Attenborough also warned in his Africa’s Gentle Giants documentary for the BBC, which aired in October 2016, that “time is running out” for giraffes.

"It's well known that African elephants are in trouble and there are perhaps just under half a million left," he said. "But what no one realised is there are far fewer giraffes. Giraffes have already become extinct in seven countries. They are killed for their meat and their habitats are being destroyed."

The process of listing a species as endangered is a lengthy one. The Fish & Wildlife Service now has 90 days to respond the petition, it can then take a year for the request to be reviewed and decided upon.

Pictures: iStock

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Hayley Spencer