New Delhi: Giraffe has been placed on the Red List of endangered species as the tallest land animal is at risk of extinction.
The animal which was previously listed as ‘of least concern' is now classed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ after the global population shrunk by 40 per cent in the past 30 years. Scientists blame habitat loss.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but the number was down to 97,562 in 2015.
At a biodiversity meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its "Red List" of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing.
The giraffe is the only mammal whose status changed on the list this year.
While everyone worries about elephants, Earth has four times as many pachyderms as giraffes, said Julian Fennessy and Noelle Kumpel, co-chairs of the specialty group of biologists that put the giraffe on the IUCN Red List.
They both called what's happening to giraffes a "silent extinction."
"Everyone assumes giraffes are everywhere," said Fennessy, co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. But they're not, Fennessy said. Until recently, biologists hadn't done a good job assessing giraffes' numbers and where they can be found, and they have been lumped into one broad species instead of nine separate subspecies.
"There's a strong tendency to think that familiar species (such as giraffes, chimps, etc.) must be OK because they are familiar and we see them in zoos," said Duke University conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, who wasn't part of the work and has criticized the IUCN for not putting enough species on the threat list. "This is dangerous."
Fennessy blamed shrinking living space as the main culprit in the declining giraffe population, worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into giraffe areas especially in central and eastern Africa.
Giraffe numbers are plunging most in central and eastern Africa and are being offset by increases in southern Africa, he said.
This has fragmented giraffe populations, making them shrink in size with wild giraffes gone from seven countries - Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal, said Kumpel of the Zoological Society of London.
Nearly 13,000 are endangered or critically endangered. The next level is vulnerable, where giraffes were placed, followed by near threatened and least concerned.
The IUCN says 860 plant and animal species are extinct, and another 68 are extinct in the wild.
The giraffe is a genus of African even-toed ungulate mammals, the tallest living terrestrial animals and the largest ruminants. The genus consists of eleven species,out of which seven are extinct - prehistoric species known from fossils - while four are still extant.
(With Agency inputs)