Photo: Laika ac / Flickr

By Mark Hofberg

Best known for their beautiful long necks and distinctive coat patterns, giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) are fascinating animals that have long captured the human imagination. Yet, in the last 30 years, the tallest land mammal on Earth has suffered a devastating population decline of almost 40 percent according to the latest assessment conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN estimates that no more than 98,000 giraffes remain in sub-Saharan Africa, prompting a “vulnerable” listing on the Red List of Threatened Species. Giraffe scientists are calling it a “silent extinction” due to the fact that they are disappearing with little or no public awareness or uproar.

The steep decline in giraffe population is attributed to extensive habitat loss and fragmentation, and illegal poaching for bushmeat, bones and tail hair. Giraffes are also falling victim to international trade in their bone carvings and trophies. The United States, a major player in the giraffe trade, has imported more than 21,000 giraffe bone carvings, 3,000 skin pieces and more than 3,700 hunting trophies in the last decade alone. These numbers — while staggering — are not surprising, partly because there are no regulatory mechanisms in place to protect giraffes under current U.S. law, despite the fact that there are fewer giraffes left than elephants.

Today we hope that changes. IFAW has joined forces with the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International and Natural Resources Defense Council to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list giraffes as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In our petition, we cite the alarming downward trend of giraffe populations throughout Africa as well as the surprising amount of giraffes found in international trade. With giraffe habitat shrinking and demand for their parts and products rising, we believe that the U.S. government should take the important step of listing the species under the ESA.

Species designated as “Endangered” under the ESA receive some of the strictest protections available for any species, including a ban on most imports and sales. The ESA will not only give giraffes the protection from trade by Americans that they need but it will also help raise public awareness about the plight and decline of these unique mammals.

It is our duty to protect these wonderful animals. We hope that the U.S. government heeds our warning and protects giraffes before the Silent Extinction becomes an irreversible reality.

Mark Hofberg is the Assistant Campaigns Officer with the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Washington D.C. office.

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