Ex­tinc­tion warn­ing for en­dan­gered gi­raffes

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Wash­ing­ton

The gi­raffe, the tallest land an­i­mal, is now at risk of ex­tinc­tion, bi­ol­o­gists say.

Be­cause the gi­raffe pop­u­la­tion has shrunk nearly 40 per­cent in just 30 years, sci­en­tists put it on the of­fi­cial watch­list of threat­ened and en­dan­gered species world­wide, call­ing it “vul­ner­a­ble”. That’s two steps up the dan­ger lad­der from its pre­vi­ous des­ig­na­tion of be­ing 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, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture.

At a bio­di­ver­sity meet­ing on Wed­nes­day in Mex­ico, the IUCN in­creased the threat level for 35 species and low­ered the threat level for seven species on its “Red List” of threat­ened species, con­sid­ered by sci­en­tists 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 pachy­derms as gi­raffes, said Ju­lian Fen­nessy and Noelle Kumpel, 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, 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, and they have been lumped into one broad species in­stead of 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, who wasn’t part of the work and 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, wors­ened by poach­ing and dis­ease. Peo­ple are mov­ing into gi­raffe ar­eas es­pe­cially in cen­tral and east­ern Africa. Gi­raffe num­bers are plung­ing most in cen­tral and east­ern Africa and are be­ing off­set by in­creases in south­ern Africa, he said.

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