Giraffe represents an iconic land mammal reminiscent of the African Savannah; and is one of the most fascinating land animals on earth.
The giant herbivores with tall necks and their majestic walks across the vast African plains and valleys is one of the most iconic sites that reminds anyone dreaming or thinking about Africa. Giraffe enjoys several unique accolades as the world’s tallest terrestrial or land animal and the world’s largest ruminant surpassing another large land herbivore, the elephants.
Giraffe is an even toed ungulate mammal endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, indicating that they are not found in the wild outside this region. Although different zoologists and molecular taxonomists have differed with respect to the number of species of giraffes varying between one to eight; with a major consensus being around six species.
However, currently the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) consider only one species and nine sub species distributed across Sub Saharan Africa based on DNA and mitochondrial analysis. There is undoubtedly significant difference of opinion among various researchers regarding the exact number of species of giraffe. According to IUCN giraffes are considered vulnerable for their global conservation status.
It is disheartening to note that this iconic land mammal is being seriously threatened with over exploitation and their numbers are decreasing by the day. Although the giraffe has surpassed the giant pachyderms, elephants as the tallest land mammal.
Unfortunately the population of giraffes across sub-Saharan Africa is now lower than that of the elephants indicating that this majestic mammal is in serious need of comprehensive conservation efforts to save it from extinction in the wild.
Giraffes have been raised in zoological gardens and private ranches around the planet; and have been bred quite successfully under captivity. However, their fast depleting numbers in their original natural ecosystems and habitats is a serious global concern for ecologists, conservators, foresters, wildlife experts and enthusiasts.
The rate of depletion of giraffe population is believed to be so high that several reports are indicating towards their extinction in the wild in the next five to six decades from the African Savannah.
The major factors contributing to the alarming decline of giraffe population across the sub-Saharan Africa is poaching due to high demand for bush meat as well as trophy hunting by rich and elite tourist hunters from outside the continent, mostly from America.
Reports suggest that at least trophy hunters are removing and transporting one giraffe a day. The decline of giraffe populations across the sub-Saharan Africa is a serious indication of the global pattern in the monumental loss of mega fauna happening around the planet.
Among other important factors contributing to her it’s the rapid decline of giraffes sub populations across Sub-Saharan Africa include habitat loss and habitat fragmentation accelerated by anthropogenic exploitation of their natural forest homes for the purpose of expansion of agriculture and industry, natural and anthropogenic forest fires as well as climate change.
Scientists have suggested that all these above factors have a serious cumulative impact on the serious decline of giraffe populations and sub populations across sub-Saharan Africa.
Giraffe trophy hunting has become a large scale industry in Africa and has been fuelled by the huge influx of rich tourist trophy hunters into the continent from North America, Europe, Australia, China, Russia, Middle East and Japan.
However, most international reports indicate Americans as the worst offenders in trophy hunting if giraffe across their entire range in Africa. Several sub species of giraffe are believed to have fallen to less than 1000 surviving individuals in the wild.
The high technological development in recreational hunting has made the giraffe extremely visible and easy target for rich trophy hunters who are ready to pay a hefty amount for their prized prey wiping out the animals from all their natural habitats. Live stock management and poultry industry is still at infancy in many African countries which harbor wild giraffe populations.
The high demand for cheaper bush meat like giraffe has made them extremely attractive targets for local poachers who can find a steady local market with voracious demands for giraffe meat as a cheap and affordable source of protein for the ordinary citizens with very low income.
This increasing demand for bush meat from local communities are pushing many animal species towards extinction in developing and under developed countries around the globe; and one of the best case in point is that of the wild giraffes. Climate change has also played a vital role in the depletion of drops population and sub-populations across the sub-Saharan African wild.
The whimsical behavior of the change in climate patterns have impacted the growth under production of the acacia trees on the great plains of Africa get serve as the major diet resource for giraffes and other herbivores. Thus an acute shortage of food resources have been pushing the animal towards farmland and getting them into direct conflict with their unfriendly human neighbors.
As a consequence, human-giraffe conflicts have given rise to death and decimation of this unfortunate and helpless majestic mammal to road and railway accidents as well as poaching in the form of unjust mob fury. Giraffe tail is considered as status symbol among many African tribes; and the meat a delicacy further decimating their wild populations.
Last but not the least, international gangs of poachers have moved deep inside African continent due to exponential high demand for both giraffe meat as well as several body parts and giraffe skins, hooves, horns, tongues, tails and head for trophy hunters in the illegal international wildlife markets operating in parts of China, South East Asia and the United States. Unless we take serious care and protection for this majestic and monumental iconic land mammal of Africa, we may looking forward towards it’s slow extinction from the Great Plains of Africa in the not so distant future.