In what perhaps may be the most shocking upset in the news this week, ecologist revealed last Friday, Dec. 5, that giraffes may be headed towards extinction - and it's in part due to a lack of awareness of dangers facing the African species. While contemporary studies in Africa's central savannahs have revealed the collected threats that human encroachment , habitat loss and black market poaching has posed to wildlife communities, researchers say that giraffes are amongst some of the hardest hit populations in the long list of black market species. And without significant change in the way giraffes are protected, they may disappear all together within a matter years.

According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which made the announcement of new research figures last week, African populations of giraffes have dropped nearly 40% in the wild over the course of only 15 years. The organization's director, Dr. Julian Fennessy says that the figures bring to light "a silent extinction", pointing out that numbers have fallen from 140,000 to only 80,000, and numbers are continuing to dwindle.

Though large, the gentle giants are relatively easy for hunters and poachers to kill for meat and hides that bring in a premium penny on Africa's and Asia's black markets. Their skins are sold throughout the continents for clothing items and as fabric for interior designs, while their meats have become quite a delicacy in certain regions, fetching quite a high demand. In fact, in nations such as Tanzania, locals have come to believe that eating parts of the animal can cure HIV and AIDS, bringing giraffes to the top of the black market lists.

So, why is this the first time we're hearing about the plight of the giraffe's if their numbers have been falling significantly since the end of the 20th century? Experts believe that it's because of the species' presence in lots of mainstream media, that people are perceiving the giraffes to be far more abundant than actual figures reveal.

"Giraffes are everywhere. Look at kid's books, which are full of giraffes" research coordinator for San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research, David O'Connor says. "They're always in zoo collections too. They're easily visible, so you don't think that we have to worry about them."

But that's far from the truth! Groups such as the Giraffe Conservation Foundation are hopeful that by bringing to light the struggles that face giraffe populations in upcoming years, without the change necessary to sustain the species, that stricter conservation measures may soon take effect. And to better help serve the species, the researchers are not only bringing to light the data that faces all giraffes in Africa's savannahs, but are also raising awareness of the nine subspecies that exist in the wild, in hopes of keeping the giant species from being lost to history in our near future.