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African giraffes highly endangered: study
Published: Saturday December 22, 2007

Man and mother nature are threatening at least six distinct species of African giraffe, which are highly endangered and could face extinction if not protected, a study warned Saturday.

Africa's 110,000-strong giraffe population, initially thought to be comprised of a single species found in all its savannas, has been severely fragmented by increasing aridity and a wide range of human pressures, Kenyan and US biologists said in a study.

"Severe poaching and armed conflict in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya reduced the number of reticulated giraffes from about 27,000 individuals in the 1990s to currently fewer than 3,000 individuals," over the past decade, the study by the International Giraffe Working Group said.

"Several of these previously unrecognized genetic units are highly endangered, such as the West African giraffe, numbering about only 100 individuals and restricted to a single area in Niger," it added.

The researchers said the extinction threat was real since giraffes are listed as lower risk in the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, "under the assumption that giraffe species are considered a single species and therefore managed as such."

Published in the latest issue of the BMC Biology journal, the study of the animals' genetic makeup contradicted the single-species theory.

Failure by the wildlife community to recognise this "could lead to further endangerment or even extinction" of giraffes, it warned, calling for conserving and separately managing the different giraffe populations.

The giraffe study is only the latest alarm to be raised over Africa's dwindling wildlife population.

In September, wildlife experts warned that "dysfunctional" African parks were losing species, particularly large mammals, due to poor conservation and pressure on resources.

Human activities -- spurred by rapid population growth and a quest for higher standards of living -- have also undermined the efforts of African governments and conservationists to protect animals, they said.