A long, patterned neck reaches into the prickly foliage of an umbrella acacia tree. Regally crowned with furry ossicones, her long eyelashes bat in the sun as she gracefully walks to a branch and tears the leaves and buds from their thorny stems.
She's not only the tallest land animal on Earth, she's also fast, and can run at speeds of up to 60kmph --critical when running away from her main predators, the lion and the hyena. She's perhaps not fast enough, however, to run from the serious possibility that her species will become extinct in the next few generations if her population continues to plummet at the current rate.
Giraffes are currently heading towards extinction, with populations falling by nearly 40 percent over the past 30 years, from approximately 160,000 in 1985 to about 97,500 in 2015, due to widespread habitat loss and poaching for bushmeat.
Their place in the 'charismatic megafauna' group has ensured they've received a lot of attention from society, however their omnipresence, ironically perhaps, has distracted the world from examining the state of their real existence in the wild.
Last year, the IUCN Red List classification for the giraffe changed from 'least concern', skipped 'near threatened' status and moved to 'vulnerable'. Currently, only 1 species of giraffe is recognised, along with 9 subspecies. However, mounting evidence has shown that there are in fact 4 different species of giraffe: the southern, the Maasai, the reticulated and the northern variants.
Data reveals that they're genetically disparate and none of these species can interbreed in the wild. If IUCN classifies them as such, 3 out of 4 of these species would be given a graver conservation status.
Their struggle to survive is exacerbated by other threats: in various countries, giraffe are shot for sport in trophy hunting. In Central Africa, giraffe are poached for their tails for cultural practices, their skin and hair for jewellery; and for traditional medicine, based on beliefs that consuming giraffe brain can cure certain diseases.
They are but one of many species that are undergoing a decline, and a very stark reminder that the world is undergoing a global extinction crisis: the worst the world has seen in about 65 million years. According to WWF's Living Planet Index, within about 40 years, the total population of vertebrate species has more than halved.
In the meantime, these imperiled creatures continue to move elegantly and silently through Africa, amidst all that threatens their existence. Their heads held high, they are now, more than ever, truly a limited edition.
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