“This is a portrait of a baby giraffe seen through a gun scope. Recent news stories tell of increasing numbers of giraffes that are killed to provide for mercenaries and insurgent armies. Guerrillas, such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, are poaching on conservation lands with impunity as there is not sufficient enforcement or conservation laws or international treaties to protect the animals.
Biologists recently discovered another factor that complicates assessing giraffe populations. Researchers determined there are four separate and distinct species: northern, southern, Masai, and reticulated giraffes. These separate groups do not interbreed in the wild. This changes the numbers when assessing whether a population is endangered or not.
If considered as a separate group, the northern giraffe is on the of the world’s most endangered large mammals. But even taken together, numbers from all groups have dropped dramatically. In 1998, there were an estimated 140,000 giraffes living throughout Africa. The international Union for Conservation of Nature now lists the total population as 97,000 which changes the giraffe’s status to Vulnerable by any measure.
Through poaching for consumption, as well as for locally mythologized medical use (in Tanzania, many believe that giraffe brains and bone marrow will cure AIDS/HIV if eaten), the greater threat maybe be habitat loss. Giraffe grazing areas have been fragmented by war, road building and encroaching human populations, as well as by mining and oil exploration.
Compared to the level of study lavished on most of the African continent’s other mega fauna, giraffes are far less understood. Given the rate at which they are being killed and hounded out of their homes, we may lose them before we have a chance to know them at all.” -Marius Mason
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