Giraffes are in far greater danger than people might think

By | March 13, 2020

Ed Yong writes:

Until recently, giraffes have suffered from surprising scientific neglect. Few researchers have studied them in the wild, so even basic aspects of their lives remain mysterious. Perhaps that’s because giraffes live in what researchers suspect are protean societies lacking the cohesiveness of elephant herds or lion prides. Whatever the reason, one of the world’s most conspicuous creatures has somehow been overlooked. The same goes for its impending extinction. And without fanfare, many other major animal groups—insects, birds, and amphibians—have also declined precipitously. Quite a few of the public’s favorite wild animals, including lions, cheetahs, and gorillas, are in greater peril than is widely realized. But, according to a 2018 study, this gap between rose-tinted perceptions and dire reality is greatest for giraffes. Their prevalence in the zeitgeist has masked their disappearance from the planet. In 2010, eight times as many Sophie the Giraffe teething toys were sold in France alone as there are actual remaining giraffes. In 2016, the number of Britons who watched a giraffe kick a lion in Planet Earth II exceeded the giraffe population by more than a hundredfold. That same year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reclassified the giraffe as “vulnerable” to extinction. Even this grave assessment might be too optimistic: New genetic evidence suggests that the giraffe may actually be four separate species that have been evolving on their own for 1 million to 2 million years. The iconic animal faces several falls instead of one. [Continue reading…]

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