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Nature conservation group: Giraffes listed as “vulnerable” for extinction

It’s the tallest land-based mammal in the world.

Its construction-crane neck, toothpick legs, knocked knees and two-story stature make it an awkwardly lovable favorite of children’s book authors and cartoonists. This animal brings an odd sort of wonder to the savannas of Africa.

But perhaps it’s best for us to start imagining a world without the humble giraffe.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature on Thursday up-listed the giraffe as “vulnerable”, meaning the animal is at high risk for extinction.

It moves up from the category called “least concern.”

The reason: a sharp 36% to 40% decline in giraffe populations in recent decades.

In 1985, the group said there were as many as 163,452 giraffes.

Now, the estimate is 97,562.

This puts the giraffe in good company. The elephant, the orangutan, certain bees, coral — so many of the Earth’s mind-blowingly cool creatures face extinction risk these days. If poaching rates continue, some fear African elephants will be extinct in 20 years.

Scientists worry coral reefs will mostly vanish by 2050 because humans continue pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere, warming up the oceans and making them more acidic, and making life hard for coral.

 

Anthony Barnosky, executive director of Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, is a global expert on extinction. He says that humans have — at the very most — 20 years to change the way we treat nature or we will bring about the sixth mass extinction event in the entire history of Earth.

“The best way to envision the sixth mass extinction is to look outside and then just imagine that three out of every four of the species that were common out there are gone,” he said. “That would be a very impoverished landscape.”

Experts say there are also consequences for humans.

 

“We are basically annihilating the life on our planet — and that is the only known life … in the entire universe,” Paul Ehrlich, also of Stanford, told me. “It’s life that shaped the planet, that made it possible for us to live here. It’s life that still makes it possible for us to live here. (If) we don’t have the diversity of other organisms, we’re done.”

Experts say burning fossil fuels, using 40 percent of the Earth for farming and livestock, a booming population and poaching have played key roles in reducing the population of animals.