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Wild giraffes in South Africa
Wild giraffes in South Africa © Michelle Riley
NEWS DESK POST by Humane Society International/Africa (HSI/Africa)

After a prod from a lawsuit filed by conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that giraffes may qualify for protection under America’s Endangered Species Act.

The 2018 lawsuit – brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States, and the Natural Resources Defense Council – seeks a response to their April 2017 legal petition for Endangered Species Act protection for giraffes. The species is gravely imperilled by habitat loss and fragmentation, civil unrest and overhunting, as well as the international trade in bone carvings, skins, and trophies.

The United States provides a large market for giraffe parts: More than 21,400 bone carvings, 3,000 skin pieces and 3,700 hunting trophies were imported over the past decade. Limiting U.S. import and trade would give giraffes important protections, and an ESA listing would also help provide critical funding for conservation work in Africa.

Giraffe-hide covered pillows for sale
Giraffe-hide covered pillows for sale at The African Market Trophy Room Collection, Myakka FL, March 2018 © Humane Society of the United States

“The U.S. on average imports more than one giraffe trophy a day, and thousands of giraffe parts are sold domestically each year,” said Anna Frostic, attorney for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International. “The federal government must now expeditiously take stock of the role we are playing in giraffe decline and how we can work to instead save these unique animals.”

Africa’s giraffe population has plunged nearly 40 percent in the past 30 years. It now stands at just over 97,000 individuals.

Giraffe feet/partial legs for sale
Giraffe feet/partial legs for sale at Atlantic Coral Enterprises, St. Augustine FL, March 2018 © Humane Society of the United States

“This is a big step toward protecting giraffes from the growing use of their bones by U.S. gun and knife makers,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s disgusting that it took a lawsuit to prompt the Trump administration to act. Saving everyone’s favourite long-necked animal from extinction should have been the easiest call in the world.”

With fewer giraffes than elephants left in Africa, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature elevated the threat level to giraffes from “Least concern” to “Vulnerable” on its Red List of Threatened Species in 2016. That finding was confirmed in 2018 along with a critically endangered assessment of two giraffe subspecies and an endangered assessment for another.

“The United States has long been complicit in the trade of giraffe parts, so it’s time for the federal government to stick its neck out for this species,” said Elly Pepper with NRDC. “The United States has taken action to help staunch the trade of numerous species in trouble. Sadly, now it is time to take action to ensure giraffes remain on the planet. They need Endangered Species Act protections and they need them now.”

Giraffe-hide-covered gun cases for sale
Giraffe-hide-covered gun cases for sale by the Texas company African Game Industries at the Dallas Safari Club expo, Dallas TX, January 2018 © Humane Society of the United States

Known for their six-foot-long necks, distinctive patterning and long eyelashes, giraffes have captured the human imagination for centuries. New research recently revealed that they live in complex societies, much like elephants, and have unique physiological traits, including the highest blood pressure of any land mammal.

The IUCN currently recognises one species of giraffes and nine subspecies: West African, Kordofan, Nubian, reticulated, Masai, Thornicroft’s, Rothchild’s, Angolan and South African. The legal petition seeks an endangered listing for the whole species. Updates for most of the currently recognised subspecies are under review by IUCN, and Giraffe Conservation Foundation recognises four distinct giraffe species in Africa, and two of these species have two and three subspecies respectively.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has 12 months to decide whether Endangered Species Act listing is warranted.

Wild giraffe in South Africa
Wild giraffe in South Africa © Michelle Riley
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Humane Society International (HSI) and its affiliates together constitute one of the world’s largest animal protection organisations. For more than 25 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals using science, advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide.