View from the top: why we should protect giraffes

The gentle giraffe, a long legged, long necked creature of grace that wanders the sub-Saharan African plains. Its distinct appearance has attracted the attention and curiosity of foreigners for centuries past, and is an iconic symbol of the African savannah.

It is said that Julius Caesar owned one in his personal zoo and dubbed it a ‘cameleopard’, because of the animal’s size and pattern. Rumours spread that they were dangerous creatures, but very soon were dispelled as the creature was notably peaceful and harmless. The nature of the giraffe is non-confrontational, and they seem to just quietly get along with things despite their large stature.

A slow decline in population

These animals are so unobtrusive in their demeanour, that they seem to be silently slipping into extinction. Sadly, the world hasn’t seemed to notice.

The decline in their numbers may be overlooked in favour of other noteworthy mammals that are given more airtime, such as the African elephant. Studies conducted in 2014 showed the wild African elephant population recorded at 450 000, whereas the total population of giraffes was only around 80 000. This equal to just 18% of the elephant population.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recently confirmed that the species is being pushed to extinction, and marked them as Vulnerable on the IUCN red list. The list acts as a barometer, measuring threats faced by the species and biological reasons that they may be unable to counter extinction.

Frightening facts about the silent extinction of giraffes:
  1. In the years between 1985 and 2015 the most notable drop occurred. Shockingly, the giraffe population declined by a massive 40%.
  2. Their total population is 80,000 in the wild (18% of the total elephant population)
  3. The giraffe population has declined 40% in the last 30 years
  4. Poaching for bones and skins on the increase
Giraffe products are leading to their demise

Tragically, to this day, giraffe products are also legal to purchase in the United States. People can purchase hides, skulls, leather products and even whole feet and ankles. In Africa, giraffes are hunted illegally for their meat, coats and, specifically, tails – which are seen as status symbols in Congolese communities.

Along with poaching, giraffes have primarily been affected by habitat loss due to the rampant and often uncontrolled expansion of agriculture and mining areas. In some regions, their habitat is destroyed to obtain firewood and grazing lands. Giraffes are browsers, mostly eating the leaves of acacia, mimosa and wild apricot trees and a few bushes, which means that removing these compromises their food source.

Here are a few interesting facts about these incredible animals that you may not know:
  1. Technically, giraffes are classified in the same mammalian family as whales, pigs, deer, and cows
  2. Baby giraffes, known as calves, are born six feet tall (1,82 m) and grow an inch every day in the first week of their life.
  3. There are nine giraffe subspecies.
  4. The giraffes name comes from the Arabic word ‘zarafa,’ or ‘fast walker’.
  5. The ossicones of giraffes (protrusions on their head) are hardened bits of cartilage – their purpose isn’t quite known.
  6. Giraffes have really big hearts! They weigh approximately 25 pounds (11 kgs), that’s around the same amount as 50 human hearts.
These gentle giants need our protection. Sign up for the volunteering experience of a lifetime where you will meet these creatures in the flesh and learn how we can ensure that they are around for many generations to come. Conservation is a team effort, and we would love you to join us.
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