Giraffes are doing a victory dance today after winning international trade protection on Thursday. Delegates at the World Wildlife Conference in Geneva voted to list giraffes on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Countries will now be required to issue non-detriment findings before exporting or importing giraffe parts. This means that in order to get permits, a scientific authority of the state must decree that the trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species.
The number of giraffes has declined by 40 percent over the last three decades, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which calls the situation a “silent extinction.” Habitat loss, poaching for meat, trophy hunting, disease and trade in their parts has left giraffes more endangered than elephants. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified seven of the nine giraffe subspecies as threatened with extinction.
Giraffes range through 21 sub-Saharan African countries. Six of the range states — Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal — submitted the proposal to curtail indiscriminate trading of giraffe parts. The U.S., E.U., New Zealand, much of South and Central America and 32 African nations supported the proposal; however, some countries in southern African wanted to be exempt. CITES discourages this kind of split listing, as it makes things difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between legal and illegal trade. Fortunately, this idea was overruled.
Because giraffes haven’t been listed under CITES in the past, there is not much international data on the trade in giraffe parts. But U.S. data points to a heinous level of trade, with nearly 40,000 giraffe parts arriving in the U.S. between 2006 and 2015. This equals at least 3,751 whole giraffes. Skins, bone carvings and raw bones were the parts most commonly intercepted. Taxidermied trophies and knives made with giraffe bone handles were other frequent imports.
The long-necked ruminants and all their supporters are hoping that the U.S. will soon list giraffes under the Endangered Species Act. After conservation groups spent more than two years petitioning for protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finally conducting an in-depth review of the status of giraffes. Hopefully, it will act sooner rather than later.
Image via Loretta Smith