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Giraffes Falling Victim To ‘Silent Extinction’

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As human populations expand and poaching continues to plague African wildlife, giraffes are in peril. Julian Fennessy, the director of Giraffe Conservation Research, an organization out of Namibia, recently told ABC News that giraffes are dying off in a "silent extinction." Giraffe populations are lower, he said, than previously thought.

Poachers hunt giraffes, who are slain for their meat, skin and bones. (The consumption of giraffe bones and brains by native Tanzanians is falsely thought to cure diseases like HIV.) In 15 years, giraffes have fallen by 40 percent - from 140,000 to about 80,000 animals, according to data collected by Fennessy and his colleagues.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature currently lists the wider giraffe species as animals of "least concern" but notes that the overall population is falling. However, two subspecies - the Rothschild's giraffe the and Niger giraffe - were recently identified as "endangered." The conservation organization notes that although certain groups are healthy, such as in protected zones in Zimbabwe and South Africa, "others are clearly in a more precarious position."

As journalist John Platt wrote in late November, giraffes are understudied compared with some of the other giant mammals, like elephants, that inhabit Africa. Despite their long necks, giraffes have been roaming under conservation's radar - perhaps because giraffes are seemingly so common. "They're easily visible, so you don't think we have to worry about them," David O'Connor, a researcher at San Diego Zoo, told Scientific American. "But we do."

Though no small feat, filling in the gaps of information with an updated census, the IUCN wrote, could lead to a reassessment of the giraffe's status.