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Giraffe trade to be monitored, strictly regulated

Some giraffe species have fewer than 10,000 individuals. Photo by Rhett Butler.

  • Until recently, there weren’t any international regulations governing the trade in giraffes and their body parts.
  • On Aug. 22, countries voted to list the giraffe under Appendix II of CITES, which would tighten the monitoring and regulation of the giraffe trade.
  • Giraffe numbers have fallen by 40 percent over the past 30 years.

Trade in Africa’s iconic giraffes and their parts will now be regulated, countries voted last week at the ongoing meeting of the global wildlife trade body.

In 2016, researchers sounded the alarm on the “silent extinction” of giraffes. Giraffe numbers had fallen by 40 percent, from around 157,000 individuals in 1985 to around 97,000 in 2015, the researchers said, and the world’s tallest mammal went from a listing of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List to “vulnerable to extinction.” The giraffe, currently recognized as a single species, Giraffa camelopardalis, was sliding toward extinction largely unnoticed.

Habitat loss, illegal hunting and civil unrest are some of the primary threats to giraffes. But the animals are also hunted legally and traded internationally. However, until recently, there weren’t any international regulations governing their trade.

On Aug. 22, the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreed to list the giraffe under Appendix II of CITES. The proposal was tabled by the Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal. The Appendix II listing would, in theory, tighten the monitoring and regulation of the trade in giraffes and their body parts,like including bones, hides and meat.

“Although this new CITES listing won’t ban the trade in giraffe parts, it will for the first time provide critical measures to track and trace this trade, which in turn should produce the data needed to further protect this imperiled species in the future,” Adam Peyman, Humane Society International’s wildlife programs and operations manager, said in a statement.

Giraffes have been placed under Appendix II of CITES. Image by Udayan Dasgupta.

Some data on giraffe trade does exist. The United States, for example, has recorded the import of more than 39,000 giraffe specimens, including whole giraffes, dead or alive, and their body parts, between 2006 and 2015. This is the equivalent of at least 3,751 individual giraffes, almost all of them sourced from the wild, according to the proposal advocating the Appendix II listing of giraffes. Around 95 percent of the individual giraffes imported were hunting trophies.

“By placing strict trade limits on giraffe parts, the CITES Parties have recognized that uncontrolled trade could threaten giraffe survival,” Elly Pepper, deputy director of international wildlife conservation at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement. “Thanks to today’s decision, the international trade in giraffe parts – which includes rugs and bone carvings – will be tracked in a manner that allows us to focus on problem trends in destructive trade, and fight for additional protections if necessary.”

Following a petition and lawsuit by the NRDC and other conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering the listing of giraffes as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

“We hope the U.S. – which strongly supported this proposal – will echo this important decision by listing giraffes under our own Endangered Species Act as soon as possible,” Pepper said. “With a million species threatened with extinction, many within decades, we must act now to get ahead of destructive trade in giraffes and other species.”

Banner image of giraffe by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

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