Masai giraffes, predominantly found in Kenya and Tanzania, are now on the global Red List of endangered species facing extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Scientists.
IUCN said the species has declined by 49 per cent over the past three decades to the current combined population of about 35,000 in Kenya and Tanzania.
The drop in numbers is attributed to reduced habitat caused by rising human population driven by a demand for land for agriculture plus the wanton illegal hunting of the tall iconic animal for meat and body parts.
At the same time, Singapore has announced it will ban the domestic trade in ivory from September 2021, shutting the door to an important end-market for poached elephant ivory particularly from Africa.
The international trade in ivory has been banned since 1990 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), an international treaty signed by most countries.
China, the largest end-market for elephant ivory, banned domestic trade in 2017.
An estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking ivory, meat and body parts, leaving only 400,000 remaining, environmentalists estimate.
IUCN’s latest updated Red List of threatened species has Masai giraffes, seven groups of primates, trees like rosewood, the European fungi, wedge fishes, giant guitar fishes and a variety of insects and amphibians. Other species on this year’s list are Patagonia Frog, Hungarian Birch Mouse, Lake Oku Puddle Frog, Hispaniolan Rhinoceros Iguana and the Pancake Tortoise found in Kenya, Tanzania and marginally in Zambia.
The IUCN red list aims to convey the urgency of conservation issues to the public and policy makers, while helping the international community to try to reduce species extinction in all regions of the world for future posterity.
Hunting giraffes is illegal in Kenya and Tanzania, but they are poached for their hide, meat, bones and tails. It is estimated two to 10 per cent of giraffes are hunted illegally every year in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. There is a belief in the country that giraffe bone marrow and brains can cure HIV/Aids.
Arizona-based environmental organisation Centre for Biological Diversity International legal director Tanya Sanerib called on the international community to help protect Masai giraffes.
“The international community needs to give giraffes protection from the exploitation they so desperately need. We have to regulate international giraffe trade or risk losing one of our planet’s most remarkable animals,” she said.
The Masai giraffes were once the largest of nine African subspecies. The others are Nubian giraffe, Reticulated, West African, Kordofan, Angolan, South African, Rothschild’s and Thornicroft’s giraffe. Kordofan and Nubian giraffe subspecies are on the critically endangered list of IUCN while Reticulated are ranked endangered.
Masai giraffe’s placement on the Red List comes ahead of August 17 to 28 Cites meeting in Geneva to discuss 57 proposals to increase or decrease controls for international trade in various species.
The latest revision pushes species assessed for the red list to over 100,000. The Red List has plants, animals and fungi assessed for extinction risk if conservation action is not taken.
-Additional reporting by Reuters