For The First Time Ever, Two Giraffe Subspecies Are Listed As “Critically Endangered”

Overall, population trends are decreasing with just over 68,000 mature individuals left in the wild. Craig Fraser/Shutterstock

The iconic giraffe is in some serious trouble, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. At least two subspecies, the Kordofan and Nubian giraffe, are now considered to be “Critically Endangered”, with others ranging from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered”.

Detailed genetic-based research conducted by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) shows the giraffe is considered one species with nine subspecies. While some species were first listed on the IUCN Red List in 2016 as “vulnerable”, five of the species were assessed for the first tie ever – and two of the subspecies are now considered some of the most threatened large mammals in the wild.

“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media, and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction,” said Julian Fennesy, director of the GCF and an IUCN expert, in a statement. “It may come as a shock that three of the currently recognised nine subspecies are now considered ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’, but we have been sounding the alarm for a few years now.” 

Overall, population trends are declining with just 68,000 mature individuals in the wild spread throughout forest and shrubland in the African Savana. It’s not known whether there is an active recovery plan, but conservation sites are identified throughout their entire range.

The IUCN notes that human population growth in Africa poses the largest threat through habitat loss, increased development in agriculture, mining, illegal hunting, increased human-wildlife contact, and civil unrest. Altogether, these factors are pushing the giraffe toward extinction.

Approximate geographic ranges, pelage patterns, and phylogenetic relationships between giraffe subspecies based on mtDNA sequences. Wikimedia Commons

But there is some good news. Two subspecies, West African and Rothschild’s giraffe, were previously listed as “endangered” and have since shown improvements in their conservation status. The IUCN credits coordinated efforts by conservation organizations and African governments for the downlisting to “Vulnerable” and “Near Threatened”, respectively. The only subspecies of least concern is the Angolan giraffe in Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, while the South Africa and Masai giraffe have yet to be assessed; the former is doing well but the latter has plummeted and will likely be placed as a threatened species.

“This is a conservation success story and highlights the value of making proactive giraffe conservation and management efforts in critical populations across the continent,” said Arthur Muneza, East-Africa coordinator of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. “Working collaboratively with governments and other partners, we feel that our proactive measures are saving giraffe in some areas before it is too late. It is now timely to increase our efforts, especially for those listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ and ‘Endangered’”. 

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