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Standing Tall for Giraffe

Much attention is paid to the startling numbers of elephants and rhinos that are killed each year by poachers. These magnificent animals are in grave danger in the wild, and zoos are among the many groups educating people about the need to protect vulnerable wildlife populations.

But another iconic African mammal recently made news for its dramatic – though lesser known – population decline. In December 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed giraffe as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN Red List is an internationally recognized evaluation of the possibility of a species’s extinction. Conservation organizations, zoos, government agencies and scientific institutions use the list to guide effective conservation plans, policy and global awareness. “Vulnerable” is the first IUCN threat category - identifying species that are at risk for extinction. It precedes the more familiar category of “endangered.”

The IUCN cited recent studies that indicate the wild giraffe populations have declined by 40% over the last 30 years. This translates to fewer than 100,000 individuals left in the wild, which is less than 1/5 of the current estimated population of African elephants.

Human population growth is the leading factor in the decline. Habitat loss, civil unrest, human-wildlife conflict and illegal hunting are quickly threatening the survival of the world’s tallest mammal.

The designation was not surprising for Dr. Julian Fennessy, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation based in Namibia.

“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction,” Fennessy said in an IUCN release. He is co-chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group.

Fennessy’s organization is also one of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Future for Wildlife conservation partners. Each year, your Zoo and Zoo Society provide funding for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to track, study and monitor wild giraffe throughout Africa.

During a visit to Cleveland in October 2016, Fennessy spent time with the keepers of the Zoo’s herd of Masai giraffe and gave a talk to Zoo Society members about how his organization successfully relocated a herd of endangered Rothschild’s giraffe in Uganda. The relocation – called Operation Twiga – moved 18 giraffe across the Nile River to an adjacent area of Murchison Falls National Park.

The Zoo's Ben Gogolick Giraffe Encounter allows guests to feed the Zoo's herd of giraffe.

The Zoo's Ben Gogolick Giraffe Encounter allows guests to feed the Zoo's herd of giraffe.

Fennessy asserted that zoos play an integral role in wildlife conservation, not only providing financial support but also raising public awareness. The first step anyone
in Cleveland can take to help giraffe in the wild, he said, is to come to the Zoo, feed the giraffe and learn about the threats to wild animals and ecosystems and what your Zoo is doing to help.

“Awareness is the first step for people; understanding and then making a difference for giraffe before it’s too late,” he said. “Zoos are extremely valuable partners in this effort. Zoos are creating that new future, that new generation that are going to be our conservationists.”

Your Zoo is committed to giraffe conservation, the important work of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, and educating our community about the threats facing the species and how they can take action to help us secure a future for giraffe in the wild. Please consider making a donation in support of our conservation programs.

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