It's apparently time to start worrying about giraffes. While they don't get the attention of elephants or other high-profile animals on the brink, new numbers from a conservation group show a startling decline: The world had 140,000 giraffes in 1999, and it has 80,000 today. “It’s a silent extinction,” the executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Research group tells ABC News. Blame poachers in poor African communities, human encroachment, multiple uses for the animals' thick skin, and crazy rumors such as one in Tanzania that giraffe meat can cure AIDS.
“For comparison’s sake, while there are warnings and alarm bells ringing about the imminent extinction of the African elephant as a result of the poaching crisis—a situation not in any way to be minimized—there are an estimated 450,000 African elephants compared to 80,000 giraffe,” a communications officer for the African Wildlife Foundation tells Scientific American. It's not all bleak news: Niger put protections into place for the West African giraffe, a subspecies of the animal, and numbers have risen from 50 to 400. It's proof that such policies can work if they're enforced, says the GCR official, who adds that the next few years are critical to giraffes' long-term survival. (Just keep your distance when visiting them at the zoo.)