During the Conference of the parties at the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP13) held in Cancun from December 2nd to 17th, 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) updated its Red List.
From now on, giraffes and okapis are threatened. With little media coverage these species are declining progressively in silence.
Declining animal species
IUCN announced on December 8th of last year, two species from the Giraffidae family, such as giraffes and nine of its sub-species as well as okapis are threatened with extinction. These two species were until now classified in the “Least Concern” category of the Red List. Now, giraffes are considered “vulnerable” while okapis are “endangered”.
In fact, in the last thirty years, their population declined from 35 to 50%. Thus, giraffes went from 151.702 specimens in 1985 to 97.562 in 2015 and as indicated by IUCN: out of the nine sub-species known, five of them have declining populations, three are growing and one is stable.
At issue: human activity
Habitat loss and degradation
Emblematic species from the African continent, these two animals suffer a lot of pressure due to the development of this part of the world: habitat loss and degradation caused by a growing human population with a high fecundity rate > 4%, pastoralism, agriculture expansion, urbanization, mineral extractions and wood harvest for construction.
Climatic changes also have an impact on giraffes. In fact, droughts are more and more common and lead to bush fires as well as migratory movements of humans.
Okapis are sensitive to human presence and cannot survive when facing a high population density while habitat fragmentation and degradation is one of the biggest threat for giraffes.
To all that must be added wars and civil commotions as currently known in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These civil unrests lead to migrations. In a survey from IUCN and ICCN (Congolese institute for Conservation of Nature) in 2015, civil war was identified as the main cause of population decrease between 1995 and 2007. Currently, the presence of illegal armed groups constitutes once again, the most important threat to okapis. For example, in June 2012, a rebel armed groups attacked the reserve of okapis (RFO) killing seven persons and 14 okapis. Moreover, civil unrests lead to migrating human population in protected zones.
© David Chancellor Institut
As numerous species in the world, giraffes are victims of illegal hunt. Bushmeat provides food and revenues for local population affected by poverty. It is also wanted from armed groups in order to feed and generate revenues. The rise of illegal hunt is explained by the development of infrastructure and the opening of forests for mineral or timber harvesting the last few years allowing access to larger zones protected until now. Some countries, such as Namibia or South Africa authorize hunting.
Meanwhile, meat is not the only reason to explain the poaching of giraffes. As recently denounced by David Hamlin, video-maker for National Geographic, the giraffe is at the heart of cultural practice.
In Congo, giraffe tails from Kordofan are given as wedding gifts or used to make lucky charm as well as fly screen.
Solutions for giraffes and okapis ?
Within this context, a resolution text was adopted by the assembly in order to fight this decline during the Global congress on nature in Hawaii in September 2016.
This text calls the UICN and its members (Countries, non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies) to:
Refuse extraction activities in world heritage zones where giraffidae live an guaranty that any ongoing or future activities in the surrounding areas are not threatening. This resolution concerns all countries from the world heritage convention.
Support the realization of the Okapis’ conservation Strategy 2015-2025 and promote the beginning of a similar project for giraffes’ conservation.
Raise awareness locally and globally on the decline of giraffidae and look for financial supports in order to boost the management of protected areas.
Some countries already enforce conservation measures. Niger has set up a national conservation strategy. This plan enabled a growth of 8 times the giraffe population in twenty years. This observation is hopeful and may offer initiatives and similar results for other countries.
Besides countries, associations such as Giraffe Conservation Foundation, African Wildlife Foundation, Giraffe Research and Conservation Trust, Giraffe Conservation Alliance are active on the ground in order to protect giraffes and okapis from any threats directed to them. You can check their websites for the latest news on giraffidae or ongoing conservation projects. Donations are possible in order to support their actions.
Pushed aside by scientists for a longtime, giraffidae are know the topic of numerous research projects. The Wild Nature Institute tries to grasp how natural and human factors impact giraffes’ demography in order to set up plans of actions.