David Attenborough reveals the animal 'heading for a silent extinction'
Giraffes are facing a "silent extinction", with only 90,000 still roaming the African plains, far fewer than the endangered African elephant, a David Attenborough documentary warns.
Just 15 years ago, there were thought to be around 150,000 giraffes in the wild. Since then numbers have fallen by 40pc due to habitat loss and poaching.
The new BBC documentary, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, followed a conservation team as they relocated a group of 20 animals across the Nile in Uganda, where it is hoped they will be safe from oil prospectors.
"These gentle giants have been overlooked," said Attenborough. "It's well known that African elephants are in trouble, and there are perhaps just over half a million left.
"But what no one realises is there are far fewer giraffes. They are killed for their meat, and their habitats are being destroyed. Time is running out."
Although the total of all wild populations numbers around one fifth that of African elephants, the giraffe's official conservation status as judged by the International Union for Conservation of Nature is still "of least concern".
Dr Julian Fennessy, executive director of Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said: "I am absolutely amazed that no one has a clue. This is a silent extinction. Some populations number less than 400. That is more endangered than any gorilla or almost any large mammal in the world.
"Everyone thinks they are everywhere. But numbers are plummeting.
"Giraffes have gone extinct in seven countries in Africa. It's not going to happen again. There is no giraffe going to go extinct on my watch."
Experts believe growing human populations, fuel wood collections, hunting and drought have all contributed to the decline of giraffes. One of the most endangered populations is the group of more than 1,000 Rothschild's giraffes in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. They live beside the Nile, but the land contains at least 75pc of Uganda's discovered oil, and drilling plans are under way.
Dr Fennessy launched the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to move animals away from the dangers of the oil drilling area. He has worked with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to capture 20 of the Murchison Falls park giraffes and move them across the Nile to establish a new population.