Giraffes move closer to federal protections
Years after international watchdogs began warning that giraffes are sliding toward a silent extinction, the Trump administration is taking the first tentative steps toward protecting the world’s tallest land animal under the Endangered Species Act.
The move, which advocates say is long overdue, came after legal pressure from environmental groups.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday that its initial review has determined there is “substantial information that listing may be warranted” for giraffes. The finding, to be published in the Federal Register, will begin a more in-depth review and public comment process that could lead to import restrictions on hunting trophies and body parts from giraffes, including hides and bones.
The giraffe population in Africa has declined by about 40 percent in the past three decades, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The group, which designates endangered species , added giraffes to its “Red List” in 2016 . It determined that the species as a whole is “vulnerable” to extinction and classified two subspecies as “critically endangered.”
There are now only about 68,000 mature giraffes left in the wild, a number falling each year. That’s less than a quarter of the estimated number of remaining African elephants, which have been protected under U.S. law as a threatened species since 1978.
Biologists cite habitat loss, civil unrest and poaching among the threats driving the decline.
A coalition of environmental and conservation groups petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service in early 2017 to protect giraffes under the Endangered Species Act. After the administration took no action for nearly two years, the groups sued in December.
“The United States cannot stand idly by and allow thousands of U.S. imports of giraffe parts every year without any regulation while these animals are on a path to extinction,” said Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International. “It is time that the United States stands tall for giraffes and gives this at-risk species the protection that it urgently needs.”
A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on Thursday.
Giraffes are often hunted for meat in the 21 African countries where they are still found. They are also increasingly targeted by wealthy trophy hunters as other big-game animals have become scarcer. More than 21,400 bone carvings, 3,000 skin pieces and 3,700 hunting trophies were imported into the United States over the past decade.
President Donald Trump has decried biggame hunting as a “horror show,” but his administration reversed Obamaera restrictions on the importation the hides, teeth and bones of elephants and lions.
Federal wildlife officials said they would officially consider listing the giraffe as an endangered species.