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Are giraffes endangered? The answer to this question is complicated. There are approximately 117,000 giraffes left in the wild, and the IUCN Red List classifies the species as a whole as vulnerable. But the number of giraffes has plummeted dramatically over the past three decades—by up to 40%. Some people refer to this as a ‘silent extinction’ because the decline has been so slow that it’s almost gone unnoticed.
But luckily, conservationists are paying attention. The factors disrupting giraffes’ way of life include habitat loss, poaching, drought, human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest. Giraffes did not receive protection from trade until 2019—which they were finally afforded thanks to the efforts of conservationists—so getting accurate numbers on the illegal trade of giraffe parts is difficult.
Though giraffes as a species are not considered endangered, some giraffe subspecies are. Out of eight assessed subspecies, two—the reticulated giraffe and the Masai giraffe—are classified as endangered. Another two, the Kordofan giraffe and the Nubian giraffe, are critically endangered. The Kordofan giraffe has lost 90% of its population since the 1980s, and the Nubian giraffe has lost 98%.
Here are the current Red List statuses of the eight assessed giraffe subspecies:
In the wild, there are about 117,000 total remaining giraffes. However, the populations of some subspecies are dwindling dangerously close to extinction. Here’s how many of each type of giraffe are left, as of the most recent assessments:
This list includes all subspecies that are currently assessed by the IUCN.
Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), anyone trying to trade internationally in giraffes or their parts will have to prove that the trade is legal and sustainable. Giraffes were given Appendix II protections, which means they are considered threatened but not necessarily threatened with extinction—though they could be if trade is not strictly regulated.
Conservationists see this protection as a huge win because it had previously been impossible to determine how much the decline in giraffe populations was due to trade.
The US is the only country that collects trade data on giraffes. Thanks to this data, we know that almost 40,000 giraffe items were traded in just one decade, from 2006 to 2015.
Like how elephants are targeted for their ivory tusks, poachers target giraffes for their bones. There’s a significant amount of international trade in carvings and trophies made from giraffe bones.
At least 3,751 individual giraffes were killed to trade the nearly 40,000 items imported by the US. This included 21,402 bone carvings, 3,008 skin pieces, and 3,744 hunting trophies.
In 2019, giraffes were finally given protection from trade under CITES. ‘This listing on Appendix II [of CITES] is an important step in regulating giraffe trade, preventing any illegal and unsustainable trade and helping to safeguard this iconic species for future generations,’ stated Matt Collis, IFAW’s Deputy Vice President of Conservation, following the win for giraffes at the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of CITES.
An additional hindrance to their population growth is the fact that giraffes reproduce slowly. Typically, mother giraffes are pregnant for about 15 months and give birth to only one calf at a time. While the average female giraffe will have five or six calves throughout her lifetime, it’s likely that only half of them will survive to adulthood.
Ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa region—particularly in Kenya—threatens the lives of many giraffes. Over 6,000 animals perished from drought in Kenya from June to November 2022, including 93 endangered Masai giraffe. This drought is the worst the region has experienced in four decades.
As watering holes and rivers dry up, these giraffes roam into human-populated areas in search of water. This often incites human-wildlife conflict—the result of a lack of resources for both people and animals. Clashes between giraffes and people who perceive them as threats can be deadly for both parties involved.
In addition to these threats, giraffes are also experiencing a widespread skin disease that causes lesions. Habitat fragmentation also causes increased inbreeding, which can make them more susceptible to disease.
IFAW is working hard to keep giraffes safe. The heroes on the ground include a trained and well-equipped ranger force, including national park rangers, law enforcement officers, and members of local communities. These workers openly share information and use high-tech data collection to detect crime before it happens and prevent poaching.
In many areas, the decline of giraffes is all too visible. While they once populated much of the semi-arid and savannah woodlands of Africa, they’ve become extinct in seven countries. Protecting them where they still remain is their only hope for continued survival.
While giraffes aren’t necessarily threatened with extinction today, they may be in the coming years if poaching and habitat loss continue.
In the US, we are petitioning the government to add giraffes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as an endangered animal. Adding giraffes to the ESA would put an end to much of the giraffe trade that enters the country. If you live in the US, you can urge your elected official to support this decision by adding your name.
It’s also important to avoid purchasing giraffe products. Ending the trade in giraffe parts starts with reducing demand.
You can also donate to support our conservation efforts and ranger teams, who work tirelessly on the ground every day to protect giraffes and other vulnerable animals.
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