WASHINGTON—Conservation and animal protection groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to propose critical Endangered Species Act protections for Africa’s rapidly dwindling giraffe population. Each year, giraffe parts including bones and skins are imported into the U.S. to be turned into home décor, frivolous accessories and fashion.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States petitioned for giraffe protections in April 2017, but the Service has not taken action, blowing past its legal deadline, which was in April 2018. Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, challenges the Service’s failure to make this critical determination as required by law.
“As giraffes face a silent extinction, it’s shocking and sad that federal officials are punting on protections for these desperately imperiled animals,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. market is flooded with products made with giraffe bones and skins, from knife handles and saltshakers to rugs and pillows. It’s past time we halt these gruesome imports to help save everyone’s favorite long-necked mammal.”
With fewer than 69,000 mature individuals remaining in the wild, giraffe populations have dropped nearly 40% because of habitat loss, civil unrest, poaching and human-caused habitat changes. The international trade in bone carvings, skins and trophies puts additional pressure on these iconic animals.
Adam Peyman, wildlife programs director for Humane Society International, speaking on behalf of Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States, said: “It is tragic that the U.S. is a top importer and seller of giraffe parts—heads, legs, feet, tails, skin—and a leading contributor to the species’ threat of extinction. It is the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Service to stop this horrific trade and provide the long overdue protection that these animals deserve, before it is too late.”
Protection under the Endangered Species Act would help curb U.S. imports and sale of giraffe bones, trophies and other parts and increase funding for conservation efforts for the species. During a recent 10-year period, the United States imported more than one giraffe hunting trophy a day on average and more than 21,400 giraffe bone carvings. Many imported giraffe parts are turned into frivolous decorative items such as pillows, boots, Bible covers or jackets, as revealed by a 2018 Humane Society International/Humane Society of the United States undercover investigation.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature assessed giraffes as “vulnerable” to extinction in 2016 and classified two giraffe subspecies as “critically endangered” in 2018 and two more as endangered in 2018 and 2019.
Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species decided in 2019 to regulate international trade in giraffes—including trophies and other body parts—by requiring export permits based on scientific findings to ensure that the trade is non-detrimental. But several key exporting countries in Africa have announced that they do not intend to follow CITES requirements for giraffes.
Because CITES listing does not foreclose giraffe trade, and because of the species’ decline, it is crucial that conservation safeguards are in place in countries such as the United States that import giraffe body parts and create demand. Today’s lawsuit explains that Endangered Species Act protections would be a much-needed step toward reversing the decline of this iconic and irreplaceable species.