03 Feb

A Giraffe's Journey Through Climate Change

Gracefully statuesque with muscular shoulders and a long, arching neck, giraffes roam the African savanna, grazing from the treetops. Their legs are often longer than 6 feet, and they can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour for short distances. These tall creatures with goofy faces, long purple tongues, and an array of individual spotting patterns flaunt two horns alongside their ears that mimics a crown. Needing about 5-30 minutes of sleep per 24-hour period and requiring a sip of water every few days, giraffes are basically superbeings.

Despite their long stride and little need for sleep or water, giraffes are unable to circumvent the pressures of climate change as global warming decreases livable habitats and food sources alongside the other threats of vehicular collisions, illegal poaching, civil unrest, and emerging diseases.

The Silent Extinction of Giraffes

Scientists have called the rapidly decreasing population of the giraffe the “Silent Extinction.” In the past 30 years, the giraffe population has quietly seen a 40 percent drop. This means that less than 100,000 giraffes remain on the earth today.

Weighing 2,600-4,200 pounds, giraffes spend 16 to 20 hours eating vegetation, sometimes consuming about 75 pounds of foliage. While these mammals spend so much time grazing, they could still survive on about 15 pounds per day in extreme situations. Their diverse diet includes as many as 93 different plant species, but acacia trees are their favorite food source.

Deforestation and agriculture have removed many of the tall trees that are useful for giraffe browsing. Replacement trees are years out from being the right height to provide food to this animal population, and the available trees are strained to provide for the long-necked species. Overbrowsing of these trees triggers the defense mechanism of the plants that release toxins into the leaves that inhibits digestion.

In the area of reproduction, giraffes stay in the womb for 13-15 months, and the calf’s birth includes a 6-foot, head-first plummet to the ground. That fall is crucial because, upon impact, the calf takes its first, deep breath. Within an hour, the baby can walk. Giraffe calves become self-sufficient around the age of 6 months, able to eat vegetation, but they are vulnerable to predator attacks and only a quarter of infants are reported to make it to adulthood.

How Does Climate Change Affect Giraffe?

Climate change is altering weather patterns, including the rainfall in certain areas of the world. This adjustment can mean that lands that were originally forest or savanna are facing increased rainfall or drought. These patterns can cause specific plants to die, influencing the connected food chain. Naturally, the African ecosystem has very specific requirements to sustain the wildlife so the warming temperatures, even by a few degrees, could cause the extinction of plants and wildlife.

While giraffes used to roam across the entirety of the African savanna, they are now clumped in areas of the continent. Some countries no longer have any giraffe whereas others, such as Niger, run the risk of vehicle collisions with giant mammals. The loss of habitat has much to do with the increase of farms and ranches, as well as the booming charcoal industry.

Meanwhile, civil war within African countries has also endangered the giraffe population since resources are stretched thin, so wildlife trafficking and poaching go on without any check.

A major component in the decrease of the giraffe population is the international trade in giraffes and their parts. Giraffe bones specifically have become a replacement for elephant ivory in knives and gun handles. Other products include giraffe-hide rugs, clothing, and taxidermied body parts.

While two giraffe subspecies have been added to the Critically Endangered list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, most giraffes are not considered endangered. In fact, in the United States, trade in giraffe parts is legal.

Since the giraffe is not native to the United States, the government hasn’t taken steps to set protections for them. However, giraffes are a favorite trophy for hunters, and U.S. hunters imported nearly 4,000 dead giraffes between 2006 and 2015. With such high demand in the United States for giraffe parts and trophies, it’s clear that the United States does have a responsibility to these creatures.

Protect the Giraffes

To help protect the giraffe population, the global community can take various steps. It’s crucial that communities take steps to reduce their carbon footprint and make environmentally-conscience decisions. Meanwhile, never buy giraffe products, and support organizations that are actively protecting wildlife through research, advocacy, and awareness. You can also contact your representative and request that they take steps to help protect giraffes.

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