Although they might be one of the most easily recognizable and beloved animals on earth, giraffes have been quietly disappearing at an alarming rate. Since the mid-1980s, their population has declined by a startling 40 percent, leaving only an estimated 97,560 individuals in the wild.
Last year, concerns about the threat of extinction prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to change their status from a species of Least Concern – skipping right over Near Threatened – to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse since then with the latest update this November that highlighted how much trouble they’re in.
“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media, and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction,” said Dr. Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN SSC GOSG, and Director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. “While giraffe populations in southern Africa are doing just fine, the world’s tallest animal is under severe pressure in some of its core ranges across East, Central and West Africa. It may come as a shock that three of the currently recognized nine subspecies are now considered ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’, but we have been sounding the alarm for a few years now.”
Unfortunately, they continue to face mounting pressure from a growing human population, human-wildlife conflicts, disease, habitat loss and fragmentation, predators, civil unrest, drought, climate change, being killed for their meat and parts and trophy hunting.
In an effort to ensure the US isn’t complicit in their further decline, a coalition of organizations petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect all four distinct species of giraffe as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act in April of last year.
Even though they exist far away, the US has played a major role in their decline. At the time, they found that nearly 40,000 giraffe parts and products had been imported into the US over just the past decade, while a recent investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) found that, on average, more than one giraffe is imported by a US trophy hunter every single day.
However, listing them would ban most imports of trophies and parts coming into the country, and regulate domestic trade, in addition to helping raise much-needed awareness about their plight. It would also generate funding for more research and in-situ conservation efforts to protect them in the wild.
The FWS had 90 days to respond, but it’s been 19 months and the agency has yet to do anything. Now, it’s getting sued by the HSUS, Humane Society International, Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The organizations ultimately hope to get a court to compel the agency to respond to the petition, which it will hopefully do in favor of moving towards protecting them.
“The Trump administration would rather allow its rich donors to mount giraffe trophies on their walls than protect giraffes,” said Elly Pepper, deputy director of NRDC’s Wildlife Trade Initiative. ”Giraffes are headed toward extinction, in part due to our country’s importation of giraffe parts and trophies. It’s shameful — though unsurprising — that the Interior Department has refused to protect them under the Endangered Species Act and I hope the courts will agree.”
You can help show your support for these iconic animals by signing and sharing the petition urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Secretary of the Interior to protect them as endangered species.