Giraffes labelled 'vulnerable to extinction' in new study

Giraffe (Getty)
Giraffe (Getty)

A steep drop in the giraffe population has seen the iconic animal classified as "vulnerable to extinction''.

Previously, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had seen giraffes to be of "least concern", but in the past three generations of the species, numbers have declined by over 30%.

It is believed this population drop is due to habitat loss, poaching and civil unrest in parts of Africa where giraffes once flourished.

Dr Julian Fennessy, the co-chair of the IUCN giraffe specialist group, told the BBC that the animals are undergoing a "silent extinction."

He said that while there has been longterm concern for the wellbeing of elephants and rhinos, giraffes have often "gone under the radar."

"Unfortunately, their numbers have been plummeting, and this is something that we were a little shocked about - that they have declined by so much in so little time."

While poaching and the destruction of land for farming has been a significant cause of the drop in giraffe populations, Dr Fennessy believes civil unrest is also important.

"In these war torn areas, in northern Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia in the border area with South Sudan, essentially the giraffes are war fodder, a large animal, extremely curious that can feed a lot of people," he said.

However, solutions do exist, and many scientists say that they are optimistic about the long-term future of some giraffe species.

Chris Ransom, from the Zoological Society of London, believes conservation is key.

"I think giraffes can survive, with the right conservation efforts, and we can ensure that the animals do live in the wild. There are a lot of cases of success in conservation. The giraffes could be one."

The IUCN's "red list" now has over 85,000 species on it, with 24,000 of them "threatened with extinction".