A dramatic drop in giraffe populations over the past 30 years has seen the world’s tallest land mammal classified as vulnerable to extinction.
Numbers have gone from around 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015 according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The iconic animal has declined because of habitat loss, poaching and civil unrest in many parts of Africa.
Some populations are growing, mainly in southern parts of the continent.
Until now, the conservation status of giraffes was considered of “least concern” by the IUCN.
However in their latest global Red List of threatened species, the ungainly animal is now said to be “vulnerable”, meaning that over three generations, the population has declined by more that 30%.
According to Dr Julian Fennessy, who co-chairs the IUCN giraffe specialist group, the creatures are undergoing a “silent extinction”.
“If you go on a safari, giraffes are everywhere,” he told BBC News.
“While there have been great concern about elephants and rhinos, giraffes have gone under the radar but, 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.”
The rapid growth of human populations has seen the expansion of farming and other forms of development that has resulted in the fragmentation of the giraffe’s range in many parts of Africa. But civil unrest in parts of the continent has also taken its toll.
“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,” said Dr Fennessy.
A study in recent months suggested that the giraffe was actually four different species but for this update of the Redlist, the IUCN have stuck with the traditional definition of one species with nine subspecies.
Of these, five have had falling populations, one has remained stable while three have grown. Different outcomes seem to be highly dependent on location.
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