Poachers have African giraffes on the verge of extinction

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Poachers have African giraffes on the verge of extinction
(FILES) - Picture taken on Febuary 7, 2014 shows a perfectly healthy young giraffe named Marius who was shot dead and autopsied in the presence of visitors to the gardens at Copenhagen zoo on Febuary 9, 2014 despite an online petition to save it signed by thousands of animal lovers. Marius, an 18-month-old giraffe, was put down with a bolt gun early on Sunday, zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro confirmed. KELD NAVNTOFT/AFP/Getty Images
A 10-day-old Rothschild giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) named Margaret is fed by her keeper, Tim Rowlands, at Chester Zoo, Chester, England, Wednesday Jan. 30, 2008. The 1.2 meter (5 ft) 34 kg (75 lb) giraffe was born two weeks early and is the first calf for her six-year-old mother Fay who was having difficulty suckling hence the need for hand-rearing. (AP Photo/Jon Super).
A three-month-old male Rothschild's giraffe named Frantisek nibbles a willow's branch during his christening party at the zoo in Olomouc, 300 kilometers (186miles) east of Prague, Czech Republic, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007. Frantisek is the 39th offspring born in this zoo. (AP Photo/CTK, Vladislav Galgonek) ***SLOVAKIA OUT***
A picture taken on April 20, 2014 shows five-day-old Rothschild giraffe Jabulani at the Zoo-Aquarium in Madrid. AFP PHOTO / DANI POZO (Photo credit should read DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images)
The young Rothschild Giraffe Jamal runs at the zoo in Leipzig, eastern Germany, on February 21, 2014. The giraffe bull born on January 18, 2014 was baptized Jamal, meaning 'Beauty'. AFP PHOTO / DPA/ SEBASTIAN WILLNOW GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read SEBASTIAN WILLNOW/AFP/Getty Images)
Rothschild's giraffe baby Katja is pictured at the Opelzoo in Kronberg, Germany on January 7, 2014. The animal was born on January 2, 2014. AFP PHOTO / DPA / FRANK RUMPENHORST +++ GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read FRANK RUMPENHORST/AFP/Getty Images)
Female Ugandan giraffe 'Lotti' chews on branches at her enclosure at Berlin's Tierpark zoo April 19, 2013. Rothschild's giraffe is one of the most endangered giraffe subspecies with only a few hundred members in the wild. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
KENYA - 2013/10/25: Endangered Rothschild's giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) at Lake Nakuru National Park in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 20, 2014 shows five-day-old Rothschild giraffe Jabulani at the Zoo-Aquarium in Madrid. AFP PHOTO / DANI POZO (Photo credit should read DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images)
A young male Rothschild giraffe is presented at the zoo in the eastern German city of Leipzig on March 5, 2012. The giraffe, born on February 22, 2012 belongs to the most endangered giraffe subspecies with only a few hundred members in the wild. AFP PHOTO / PETER ENDIG GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read PETER ENDIG/AFP/Getty Images)
Giraffe Manor, Rothschild's Giraffe, Kenya (Photo by: EyeOn/UIG via Getty Images)
Ugandan giraffe 'Shahni' licks her 20 days old daughter on September 15, 2010 in their enclosure at the zoo in Hanover, central Germany. The baby giraffe is the 50th giraffe born at the zoo. In the wild, Ugandan giraffes also known as Rothschild giraffes are an endangered species. AFP PHOTO HOLGER HOLLEMANN GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HOLGER HOLLEMANN/AFP/Getty Images)
Rothschild Giraffe, Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya, Africa (Photo by: EyeOn/UIG via Getty Images)
CHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 30: Margaret, the 10-day-old Giraffe, is bottle fed by Chester Zoo keeper Tim Rowlands on January 30, 2008, in Chester, England. Margaret is the first Rothschild giraffe born at the zoo and is being hand reared after having difficulty suckling from her mother. Margaret, who is named after keeper Tim's mother, already measures 1.2m (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Rothschild Giraffe, Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya, Africa (Photo by: EyeOn/UIG via Getty Images)
Rothschild's giraffe Kitoja waits in a trailer to leave the zoo in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Thursday, May 22, 2014. The giraffe was born a year ago in Gelsenkirchen and will be transported to the zoo in Amneville in France. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
The young Rothschild giraffe Jamal, right, stands in front of his flock at the zoo in Leipzig, Germany, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The giraffe born on Jan. 18, 2014, is called Jamal, that means 'Beauty'. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
(FILES) - Picture taken on Febuary 7, 2014 shows a perfectly healthy young giraffe named Marius who was shot dead and autopsied in the presence of visitors to the gardens at Copenhagen zoo on Febuary 9, 2014 despite an online petition to save it signed by thousands of animal lovers. Marius, an 18-month-old giraffe, was put down with a bolt gun early on Sunday, zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro confirmed. AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / KASPER PALSNOV +++ DENMARK OUT +++ (Photo credit should read KELD NAVNTOFT/AFP/Getty Images)
(FILES) - Picture taken on Febuary 7, 2014 shows a perfectly healthy young giraffe named Marius who was shot dead and autopsied in the presence of visitors to the gardens at Copenhagen zoo on Febuary 9, 2014 despite an online petition to save it signed by thousands of animal lovers. Marius, an 18-month-old giraffe, was put down with a bolt gun early on Sunday, zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro confirmed. AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / KASPER PALSNOV +++ DENMARK OUT +++ (Photo credit should read KELD NAVNTOFT/AFP/Getty Images)
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - FEBRUARY 8: An 18-month-old giraffe named Marius (Rear 2nd L) will be slept on Sunday before Copenhagen zoo to kill surplus young giraffe and feed him to the lions in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 8, 2014. Animal rights campaigners in Denmark are trying to save a healthy young giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo from being destroyed. (Photo by Irfan Cemiloglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - FEBRUARY 8: An 18-month-old giraffe named Marius (R) will be slept on Sunday before Copenhagen zoo to kill surplus young giraffe and feed him to the lions in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 8, 2014. Animal rights campaigners in Denmark are trying to save a healthy young giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo from being destroyed. (Photo by Irfan Cemiloglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - FEBRUARY 8: An 18-month-old giraffe named Marius (C) will be slept on Sunday before Copenhagen zoo to kill surplus young giraffe and feed him to the lions in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 8, 2014. Animal rights campaigners in Denmark are trying to save a healthy young giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo from being destroyed. (Photo by Irfan Cemiloglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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By RYAN GORMAN

African giraffes are in danger of becoming extinct.

Hunting and poaching have decimated the continent's giraffe population by about 40 percent, according to one estimate. There are now only about 80,000 of the animals currently in the wild.

As recently as 15 years ago, there were roughly 140,000 giraffes in Africa, according to a Giraffe Conservation Foundation study.

"People love giraffes, but they're being taken for granted," Dr Julian Fennessy, the world's only full-time giraffe conservationist, told the Times of London.

The world's tallest animal, giraffes are spread among 21 separate countries, according to the group. They have nine subspecies, two of which are now classified as endangered.

The subspecies are categorized based on genetic data, geography, coat patterns and morphology, according to the non-profit.

Fewer than 300 "West African giraffes" remain in Niger, Hennessy told ABC News, and only 700 "Rothschild's giraffes" are left in Uganda and Kenya.

"Poaching has big impact on certain areas, especially in East and Central Africa," Hennessy told ABC.

The poachers are hauling in record numbers of giraffes because many believe the long-necked animal's meat and/or bone marrow is an HIV cure.

"It is believed [in Tanzania] that giraffe brains and bone marrow can cure HIV-AIDS victims," wrote researcher Zoe Muller, in a research report cited by ABC.

"Freshly severed heads and giraffe bones can fetch prices of up to $140 per piece," she added. "In rural African communities, bush meat not only forms a large part of the diet but also provides an important source of income."

"Killing a giraffe involves relatively little effort for the amount of meat yielded, as a large quarry can be secured with a single gunshot," Muller continued. Giraffe skin is "thick, durable and suitable for a range of purposes such as making clothing, shoes, bags, belts, hats and covers for drums."

Their hair is also "used to make bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry" as far back as ancient Egypt.

Recent restrictions on hunting giraffes living in wildlife parks have failed to curb poachers who are determined to take down the highly-coveted creatures.

Hennessy told ABC he sees the hunts as a "silent extinction."

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