Conservationists have warned that some sub-species of giraffes could become extinct after new statistics reveal that the number of giraffes in the wild has fallen by more than 40 per cent over the past fifteen years.
There are fewer than 80,000 giraffes left on the African continent and several sub-species are already officially classified as endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching. By next year, all giraffes could be re-classified as endangered.
"People love giraffes but they're taken for granted," Dr Julian Fennessy, director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation told The Times.
He warns that the animals are not being given the attention or protection they need to survive by governments and large conservation groups.
"Many of the threats to rhinos and elephants are the same for giraffes," said Doctor Noelle Kumpel from the Zoological Society of London.
However, unlike rhinos and elephants that are hunted for their tusks and horns, giraffes are increasingly being killed for their meat, particularly in Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Giraffe meat is said to be sweet and is popular among locals. Some traditional healers even tout giraffe meat – particularly the bone marrow and brains – as a cure for HIV/Aids, fuelling the illegal trade.
Poachers "get a big bang for their buck because giraffes are an easy kill compared to other ungulates and you get a lot of meat," David O'Connor, an ecologist with the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research told Take Part magazine.
Conservationists are calling for global attention to be directed towards saving the giraffe, as well as rhinos and elephants. "We don’t have the budgets to go big — we don’t get the actors and actresses. So people don’t realise that giraffes are threatened," said Dr Fennessy.
The giraffe plays a key part in the ecosystem and is "one of Africa's iconic species," said Kathleen Garrigan from The African Wildlife Foundation. "To lose them simply because we weren't paying attention would be tragic."