Towering above the grasslands of Africa, giraffes are the tallest land mammal in existence, sometimes exceeding 18 feet in height. Giraffes are social animals that roam the savannah peacefully in large herds. Using their remarkable prehensile (capable of grasping) tongues—which can measure over three feet—they forage for food at the tops of trees that other animals couldn’t possibly reach. Across Africa, there are nine subspecies of giraffes, each of which is an important keystone species that plays a vital role within their ecosystem.
Photo: © Ashwati Vipin
Savannas, deserts, and open woodlands
Where do giraffes live?
Southern, Central Africa and West Africa
Giraffes are in trouble. As human development and expanding agriculture continue to boom across Africa, giraffes are losing some of their most important habitat, as well as their primary food source of acacia trees. This habitat fragmentation leads to isolation and limited genetic diversity between giraffe populations, which hinders their ability to adapt to a changing environment and defend against disease.
Human encroachment also leads to the perception that giraffes are in competition for resources with humans and their livestock, which can result in human-giraffe conflict as communities protect these resources. On top of all of this, giraffes also fall prey to a significant amount of poaching for meat and the international trade of giraffe parts.
How many giraffes are left?
Today, giraffes occupy only a fraction of their historic range. There are now approximately 68,000 giraffes left in the wild. Giraffes have already become extinct in seven African countries, where they were once widely found.
Why are people not more aware of the decline of giraffe populations?
Giraffes are suffering what is called a “silent extinction.” Giraffe populations have continuously declined by as much as 40% over the last 30 years, but because of this relatively recent and steady decline, very few people are even aware they are endangered.
IFAW is working hard to stop the “silent extinction” of giraffes, promoting coexistence on the ground and working to stop poaching at every stage.
Keeping these animals safe requires a trained and well-equipped ranger force. In Kenya, we connect national park rangers, local community members, and law enforcement officers to create a better system for detecting wildlife crime. Through the sharing of information and use of high-tech data collection, our teams are able to detect crime before it happens and prevent poaching events. And on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, our brave 77-member ranger unit, which includes the all-women IFAW Team Lioness, is protecting giraffe populations and other wildlife from poachers and working closely with community members to implement solutions that lessen human-wildlife conflict.
IFAW’s team is also advocating for increased protections against the international trade of giraffe bone carvings and other trophies. In 2019, we helped usher in a big win for giraffes at the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva, as governments voted in favour of protecting giraffes from unregulated trade.
How can you help save giraffes?
Although the U.S. is far away from wild giraffe populations, the government has a say on the protections of this vulnerable species. Let the U.S. government know you want to protect giraffes by signing our action to list giraffes as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
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