American demand for African giraffe parts is pushing the animals closer to extinction, said animal welfare organizations who are taking legal action against the US government this week.
The legal action, launched by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society International (HSI) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is directed at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The three organizations accuse the US Fish and Wildlife Service of “failing to propose critical Endangered Species Act protections for Africa’s rapidly dwindling giraffe population.”
Every year, “giraffe parts including bones and skins are imported into the US to be turned into home décor, frivolous accessories and fashion,” they said in a statement.
Wild giraffe numbers are dropping with less than 69,000 mature individuals remaining. They are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. In the 1980s, there were more than 155,000 giraffes in the wild in Africa.
Giraffes live mostly in national parks in sub-Saharan African countries, like the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Amboseli National Park in Kenya.
Threats to wild giraffes include habitat loss, civil unrest, illegal hunting and a changing environment because of climate change, the IUCN said.
The trade in products made from giraffe’s bones and skins is also part of their numbers dropping. “It is tragic that the US is a top importer and seller of giraffe parts,” said Adam Peyman, HSI wildlife programs director.
The imported parts, he said, include heads, legs, feet, tails and skin. America, he added, is now “a leading contributor” to the extinction threat giraffe’s face.
Tanya Sanerib, legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, described the US market as “flooded with products made with giraffe bones and skins”.
According to a 2018 HSUS/HSI investigation, many imported giraffe parts are turned into decorative items, including pillows, boots, Bible covers and jackets.
The lawsuit, filed in Washington DC, follows a 2017 legal petition by the same three organizations requesting that giraffes, technically known as giraffa camelopardalis, be listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The statement said the legal deadline for the US government agency to list giraffes as endangered was April 2018.
The principal US government agencies responsible for implementing the ESA are the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service.
The US Fish and Wildlife Services offered no comment on the lawsuit but it did provide links to webpages suggesting the agency is currently considering adding giraffes to the endangered species list.
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