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A Tall Story – A look at the world of giraffes


"The silent extinction"

I’m thinking about Giraffes today. In case you are wondering why, their International Day fell on the same day as I was writing about rainforests. In fact I’ve missed quite a few other commemorative days this month while obsessing about trees – Endangered Species Day, Biological Diversity Day, World Ocean Day, World Bee Day, Parrot Day, Turtle Day, Lynx Day, Cougar Day, Croc Day, Camel Day and quite a few before that, but these topics are not unrelated – destroy the habitat and you lose the species whether its orangutans, elephants, turtles, insects, birds or anything else. It’s only when we start losing big mammals that we seem start to taking notice of the damage being done, while countless minor species sink without trace. A friend and I were talking only the other day about how rarely we see Christmas beetles these days compared to how abundant they were when we were children. The special days are good in the sense that we come to understand some of the specific threats faced by individual species and what we might do about them. Giraffe Day also made me realise how little I actually knew about them so we’ll talk a bit about them today and then some of the others, especially the ones I haven’t written about before.

 Meet the Giraffe

Giraffes truly are a wonder of the world. At an average 5.49 metres (18 ft) for males and 4.27m (14 ft) for females they are the tallest land mammals and an amazing sight to see. Their offspring are around 2m tall at birth and reach their full height at two years of age. Many juveniles fall victim to predators. Committed vegetarians, their height enables them to browse elegantly on trees, yet as their necks do not reach the ground they must splay their legs in order to drink. Fortunately they don't do that often. The giraffe has one distant relative the Okapi, which is smaller, mostly black with stripes on its hindquarters and prefers a reclusive life in the deep jungle to strutting about on the savannah.

How to tell whether a Giraffe is a boy or a girl and other giraffe facts


Read more about these gentle giants here and here.


What does the future hold for giraffes? 

 There are now only about 97,562 giraffes left in the wild, a decline of around 40% over the last three decades. They are found primarily in East and Sub Saharan Africa. As usual their diminishing numbers are largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation, but also to poachers, illegal hunting, mining, agriculture, civil unrest, climate change and population growth which leads to clearing of new areas. 

It has only recently been discovered that there are in fact four different species of giraffe as well as several subspecies. While all are vulnerable to extinction according to the ICUN Red List, several subspecies are either endangered or critically endangered. The Kordofan, a subspecies of the South African Giraffe, falls into the latter category as does the Nubian. Northern Giraffe numbers have fallen by 90% to 6,000 in the last thirty -five years and the Masai Giraffe which lives between Kenya and Tanzania has declined by 50% to around 32,000. Giraffes are already extinct in seven African countries. What a shame that our knowledge base seems to grow in inverse proportion to the number of specimens which remain.

 Saving Giraffes

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation has programmes running in 16 different African nations and seeks  to ensure the survival of remnant populations. It has for example, relocated Nubian giraffes, a subspecies of the Northern Giraffe, to The Ugandan Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, the largest wildlife reserve in Uganda, where giraffes, along with most other species perished during the civil war. It also monitors and tracks giraffes in order to better protect them and publishes a number of educational resources.

How we can help

  •      Support conservation in situ and habitat conservation, rather than zoos but do both if you can. Much as I would prefer to see giraffes in the wild, zoos are our last line of defence against extinction when numbers become too low. They will be struggling too while tourist numbers are low