No one used to pay much mind to the giraffes that roamed Africa. But new numbers from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature show a significant decline in their population over the past three decades and have conservationists worried that the elegant creature is falling victim to what one IUCN expert calls a "silent extinction," the BBC reports. In 1985, there were between 152,000 and 163,000 giraffes, but that number dropped to 97,000 by 2015—a "devastating decline" of nearly 40% that now moves the animal from the "least concern" category into the "vulnerable" one on the group's Red List. "While there [has] been great concern about elephants and rhinos, giraffes have gone under the radar," says Dr. Fennessy, co-director of the IUCN's Giraffe Conservation arm.
The updated Red List, released Thursday at a biological diversity conference in Cancun, Mexico, points to man as the main driver of the declining stats, with poaching, habitat loss, and local unrest all assuming partial blame. A Duke University conservation biologist says the IUCN is partly to blame, too, for not considering more species threatened. "There's a strong tendency to think that familiar species [such as giraffes, chimps, etc.] must be OK because ... we see them in zoos," he tells the AP. "This is dangerous." Some good news, at least for some long-neckers: Of the nine giraffe subspecies, three of them are experiencing increasing populations; one is stable. A resolution passed in September at the IUCN's World Conservation Congress hopes to reverse the falling numbers of "Africa's iconic megafauna." (Three rare giraffes were killed for their tails.)