IUCN Recognizes Giraffe as Vulnerable to Extinction

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The giraffe is now vulnerable to extinction, according to the latest update to IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The update moves the giraffe from its previous designation of “least concern” to the “vulnerable” category, affirming that one of Africa’s most beloved wildlife species is being threatened by extinction. IUCN, a widely recognized authority on the status of the natural world, made the announcement during the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

While more than an estimated 160,000 giraffes roamed the continent in 1985, 2015 estimates are below 100,000. By those numbers, the total giraffe population has declined by as much as 40 percent in the past three decades.

“You cannot think of Africa’s wildlife without thinking of the iconic giraffe,” says Philip Muruthi, vice president for species protection at AWF. “Even so, the plight of the elephant and rhino in Africa often get more attention than the giraffe. This new designation by IUCN helps draw much-needed focus to a species that many do not realize is in danger.”

Habitat loss and fragmentation, driven by human expansion and development, is the leading cause of the giraffe’s population decline, with human–wildlife conflict also playing a significant role. AWF has addressed a number of these threats in landscapes across the African continent. In the Parc W landscape, for example, AWF has worked with local authorities to improve monitoring and conserve critical habitat for the world’s last remaining population of West African giraffe. Our efforts have helped this population grow from an estimated 200 individuals in 2010 to as many as 450 today. Through similar efforts, AWF has protected important giraffe populations in parts of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

It is possible that the giraffe’s Red List status could change again at some point in the future. Earlier this year, new research pointed to the existence of four distinct giraffe species, a significant departure from the current classification of one species with nine different subspecies. If the IUCN approves this four-species delineation, several of the newly categorized species would have so few individuals remaining that they would rank as some of the most endangered large mammals in the world.