Giraffes and “The Silent Extinction”
It may be hard to believe, but the world’s tallest animal is also facing extinction, and their plight has largely gone unnoticed.A recent study estimated “an overall 36-40% decline in the giraffe population from approximately 151,702-163,452 in 1985 to 97,562 in 2015.” [i]
Causes of Extinction
- Habitat Erosion
Like big cats, they are losing their habitats, limiting their access to food.
Giraffes are hunted for bush meat, but the numbers at which they are being hunted are unsustainable.
- Erroneous Beliefs
Researchers discovered that some in Tanzania believe that giraffe meat hold the cure for HIV/AIDS. This tragically false, both for those who consume the meat hoping it will cure their illness and for the giraffes who are consumed.[ii]
Impact of Extinction
- Food Source
Rob Hainer reports that giraffes provide a food source for oxpecker birds, who eat the ticks off their necks and shoulders.[iii]
- Acacia Trees
One study found the growth of acacia trees depended on herbivores.[iv] When the trees were protected from herbivores, including the giraffe, they produced less nectar. It turns out they this nectar provided food for ants who defended them from pests like wood-boring beetles.Another study found that giraffes play a vital role in germinating many species of Africa’s most iconic tree, the acacia tree. Some “acacia species only germinate after the seeds pass through a giraffe’s digestive system.”[v]
- Alarm Systems
Their height gives them an evolutionary advantage; they spot predators more easily than their close-to-the-ground counterparts. Thus, Hainer notes that many “species stick close to giraffes,” and use them as “their early warning system.”[vi]
The disappearance of giraffes will harm the ecosystem, the economy, and other species.
[i]. “IUCN Red List Confirms: Giraffe are under Threat,” Giraffe Conservation Foundation, December 8, 2016. https://giraffeconservation.org/2016/12/08/iucnredlist-giraffe-vulnerable/. Accessed March 10, 2017.
[ii].Louise Dewast, “Giraffes in Danger of Extinction: Why Their Numbers Have Dropped,” ABC News, December 3, 2014. http://abcnews.go.com/International/giraffes-danger-extinction-numbers-dropped/story?id=27334959. Accessed February 18, 2015.
[iii]. Rob Hainer, “Giraffe’s Niche in the Ecosystem,” PawNation. http://animals.pawnation.com/giraffes-niche-ecosystem-5609.html. Accessed February 18, 2015.
[iv]. “Disappearance of Elephants, Giraffes Causes Ecological Chain Reaction,” Mongabay.com, January 10, 2008.http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0110-ants_trees.html. Accessed February 23, 2015.
[v]. Hainer, “Giraffe’s Niche in the Ecosystem.”