This photo has been used for illustrative purpose only.
Since the mid-eighties, giraffes have been on a steady decline. Population numbers have dwindled by 40 per cent, leaving around 68,000 mature adults in the wild.
To put it in context, there is reportedly one giraffe for every four African elephants, which themselves are considered a vulnerable species.
Despite giraffes’ precarious status, they are not listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). In fact, until last year, there were no international regulations to monitor their trade.
If giraffes were protected by the ESA, it would mean tighter restrictions on taking them from the wild, transporting or selling them. It could also unlock federal aid for cooperating countries who have populations of giraffes, according to its details.
In 2017, a coalition of conservation groups aimed to correct this by petitioning the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), who oversee the law, to list giraffes.
After a two-year delay (and a lawsuit from the groups), FWS found that there was “substantial information on potential threats” to giraffes and listing them “may be warranted.”
However the decision-making process will not begin until 2025, to the alarm of some animal welfare activists.
“Given the level of threat and the urgency with which we must act to protect giraffes and many other species, we hope that the agency will act accordingly and make its decision to list the species as endangered much sooner than 2025,” said Paul Todd, senior staff attorney of the nature program at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who was one of the petitioners.
“We stand ready to do what we can and what is necessary to help make that happen.”
Ben Williamson, Programs Director, World Animal Protection, US added: “The protection of giraffes under the Endangered Species Act is long overdue. These iconic animals are under threat from the usual evils of habitat destruction and poaching, and the misguided human curiosity that sees their furry tan skin turned into rugs, and long bones turned into trinkets.
“Designating giraffes as endangered or threatened would place much-needed restrictions on the ability of vulgar people with deep pockets and shallow souls to shoot them and import their body parts into the US, and will make more funding available for conserving the species in the wild."
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which tracks the planet’s most at-risk species, has declared the giraffe “vulnerable to extinction.”
There are four species of giraffe — Masai, southern, northern and Reticulated — and five subspecies within those, according to Giraffe Conservation Society.
The Kordofan giraffe, which inhabits Central Africa, have lost 90 per cent of its population in the past 40 years. Just 2,000 of this giraffe are left in the wild.
The Nubian giraffe, which once roamed across Northeast Africa, is now largely extinct in much of its historic range. It has lost 98 per cent of its population — leaving just 455 in the wild — and lives only on protected lands in Kenya.
The role that both the legal and illegal wildlife trade has played in giraffes' dwindling numbers is difficult to assess as research on the species across their African habitats has been limited, IUCN noted. In fact it was only a handful of years ago that it was discovered that there are in fact four distinct species.
A 2018 investigation, by Humane Society International (HSI), found that 40,000 giraffe parts were imported into the US from Africa between 2006-2015. Among these were 3,700 hundred trophies, equivalent to one a day.
Dr Fred Bercovitch, executive director of Save the Giraffes, told the New York Times last year that although more than 90 per cent of the parts were considered legal imports, 50 came from the critically at-risk Nubian giraffe.
The species are at risk from habitat loss and degradation due to land clearance for agriculture; growing human populations and the complex impacts of the climate crisis. Close proximity to domestic livestock can also result in the transmission of diseases to giraffes.
The species have been caught in the cross-hairs of war and civil unrest in regions of central and east Africa. Others have fallen victim to poaching, both for bushmeat in local markets, and to be carved up and trafficked in the illegal wildlife trade.
It is unclear why decision making will not begin until 2025 but giraffes are not the only species to face a lengthy process.
“How do we tell our great-grandchildren that we had a chance to save these magnificent mammals, yet failed to do so?” Williamson said.
"The Endangered Species Act exists for precisely this reason — to guarantee future generations’ right to share the planet with these evolutionary marvels.”
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