It’s been a rough few decades for giraffes. Native to Africa, these long-necked animals are the tallest to dwell on land, stretching up to 18 feet in height. But such a spectacular sight has become less and less common, as their populations have dwindled by nearly 40 percent since 1985. Roughly 97,000 giraffes remain in the wild—a number that might soon prompt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to officially declare them an endangered species.
According to Smithsonian.com, the giraffe population has been under duress for some time. Encroachment from developed areas has reduced their habitable environment, and poachers have also contributed to their shrinking numbers. Some hunters kill the animal for meat, while others take the tail, which is perceived in some cultures as a status symbol. The leather is also used in fashion and accessories. In 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which administers a world list of endangered species, put them at Vulnerable status, signaling a need to minimize their threats.
In 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition, signed by numerous environmental groups and activists, asking to investigate the animals' status. Now, the agency has agreed to evaluate the giraffe and consider action. The review process could last up to 12 months. If giraffes receive the endangered species classification, conservationists would receive federal funding to help curb incentives to kill the animals, including the import of its body parts for sale and distribution. Land encroachment is more difficult to monitor and would involve interfering in land deals and development.
Why hasn’t their plight been more publicized? One theory is that giraffes are common sights in zoos, leading to a widespread belief they’re still thriving. Activists are also concerned the review process by the Fish and Wildlife Service could take longer than anticipated and have urged policymakers to act quickly. In a statement, Natural Resources Defense Council spokesperson Elly Pepper said that “it’s time for the federal government to stick its neck out” for the species.