Africa has lost 40 percent of its giraffes in just 15 years.
That’s what conservation groups are reporting across the continent, with giraffes falling victim to poachers in Tanzania, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – not for ivory, as in the case of elephants, but for their flesh. The killing of both species is intertwined, however, as poachers are using giraffes as a food source while they hunt for ivory.
An estimated 20,000 elephants were killed in 2013, their tusks having tripled in value in China, where ivory can still be sold domestically. The trade is pushing elephants to the brink of extinction in several areas, driven in part by guerrilla groups that sell the ivory for ammunition and in part by government corruption on multiple continents. This month, the Environmental Investigation Agency published a report that accuses top-ranking Chinese officials of colluding with elephant poachers to ship thousands of pounds of ivory from Tanzania to China.
Poachers in both Tanzania and the Congo are laying waste to elephants across the country and feasting on giraffes in the interstices.
There are now less than 80,000 giraffes left in Africa. Of its nine subspecies, three now have populations below 1,000 and two are on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species.
With over 100,000 elephants killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012, “giraffes are the forgotten megafauna,” says Fennessy. “They’re really not getting the attention they deserve.”
Giraffes, unlike elephants, are also being targeted for their fabled healing qualities. Ten years ago, word began to spread in Tanzanian villages that giraffe bone marrow and brains could cure HIV. Poaching of giraffes rapidly increased and now a freshly severed giraffe head can fetch up to $140 and giraffe meat, though illegal to sell, is extremely popular in Arusha, the country’s international hub.