Giraffe numbers plummet as wildlife study paints grim picture

8 Dec 2016

Image: Dave Pusey/Shutterstock

Habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting have combined to push the giraffe towards extinction, with several newly recognised birds also on the out.

One of nature’s more instantly recognisable species, the iconic giraffe’s population in the wild has plummeted 40pc in the past 30 years – a fall from more than 150,000 in 1985 to 97,562 in 2015.

The species, which is widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated subpopulations in west and central Africa, has moved from Least Concern to Vulnerable according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).


The IUCN’s updated Red List, which monitors species numbers globally, also highlighted hundreds of newly recognised bird species, with 11pc of them already threatened with extinction.

It’s the giraffe population that will capture most concern, however. As usual, the growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations.

Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction.

Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, three have increasing populations, whilst five have decreasing populations – only one is stable.

“Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN’s director general.

A pair of giraffes. Image: Nick Fox/Shutterstock

A pair of giraffes. Image: Nick Fox/Shutterstock

“This IUCN Red List update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought.

“Governments gathered at the UN biodiversity summit in Cancún have the immense responsibility to step up their efforts to protect our planet’s biodiversity – not just for its own sake, but for human imperatives such as food security and sustainable development.”

A resolution adopted at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September this year called for action to reverse the decline of the giraffe, though there are biodiversity issues everywhere.

For example, a change to this Red List sees 233 wild relatives of crop plants such as barley, oats and sunflowers added. Some mango, asparagus and sunflower species are under threat, which could have knock-on effects for animals reliant on them for food.

“Crop wild relative species are under increasing threat from urbanisation, habitat fragmentation and intensive farming, and probably climate change,” said Toyota’s Kevin Butt, with his company helping in the latest study.

“To conserve this vital gene pool for crop improvement, we need to urgently improve our knowledge about these species. Toyota is pleased to provide support for the assessment of these and other species on the IUCN Red List.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic