Gi­raffes, rarer than ele­phants, put on ex­tinc­tion watch list

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

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 watch list 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 (IUCN).

At a bio­di­ver­sity meet­ing 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, cochairs 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.

This has frag­mented gi­raffe pop­u­la­tions, mak­ing them shrink in size with wild gi­raffes gone from seven coun­tries Burk­ina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Nige­ria and Sene­gal, said Kumpel of the Zoo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don.

The IUCN says 860 plant and an­i­mal species are ex­tinct, and an­other 68 are ex­tinct in the wild. Nearly 13,000 are en­dan­gered or crit­i­cally en­dan­gered. The next level is vul­ner­a­ble, where gi­raffes were placed, 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, which was al­ready crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, is now con­sid­ered pos­si­bly ex­tinct, pend­ing con­fir­ma­tion, as is the trondo mainty, a river fish in Mada­gas­car.

But there is also good news for some species. The Vic­to­ria stonebasher, a fresh­wa­ter fish in Africa, went from be­ing con­sid­ered en­dan­gered to least con­cerned with a sta­ble pop­u­la­tion. And an African plant, the ac­made­nia can­dida, which was de­clared ex­tinct, has been re­dis­cov­ered and is now con­sid­ered en­dan­gered. An­other fresh­wa­ter fish, pty­chochro­moides itasy, which hadn’t been seen since the 1960s, has been re­dis­cov­ered in small num­bers in Africa’s Sakay River and is now con­sid­ered crit­i­cally en­dan­gered. —AP

NAIROBI: A gi­raffe bends over to take food pel­lets from Kenyan vis­i­tors at the Gi­raffe Cen­tre in Karen, on the out­skirts on Wed­nes­day, Dec 7, 2016. —AP

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