CITES Protects Giraffe for the First Time


Published Aug 22, 2019 8:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreed to protect giraffes for the first time this week by listing the species on Appendix II, which will now regulate international trade in giraffe parts, such as hides, bones and meat. 

The decision now moves forward to the plenary session for full ratification next week.

Once ranging over much of the semi-arid savannah and savannah woodlands of Africa, today giraffe are only found south of the Sahara and only about 68,000 mature individuals remain in the wild. The species was recently classified as “Vulnerable” to extinction by the IUCN. International trade in body parts of poached giraffes threatens the survival of Critically Endangered, Endangered, small and declining giraffe populations. Other threats include habitat loss and civil unrest.

Although the new CITES listing won't ban the trade in giraffe parts, it will provide measures to track and trace the trade for the first time.

Adam Peyman, Humane Society International's wildlife programs and operations manager, said: "Securing CITES Appendix II protection for the giraffe throws a vital lifeline to this majestic species, which has been going quietly extinct for years. This listing could not come soon enough. CITES listing will ensure that giraffe parts in international trade were legally acquired and not detrimental to the survival of the species.”

HSI is concerned the giraffe has been in danger of suffering a silent extinction, because the 36-40 percent population decline it has suffered over the past 30 years has received insufficient attention.

HSI has examined U.S. trade data and found that at least 33,000 giraffe specimens were commercially imported into the country between 2006 and 2015 and almost all were wild sourced. They included bone carvings, bones, skin and bone pieces. An undercover investigation conducted by HSI and the Humane Society of the United States in 2018 illustrated the thriving trade. It found giraffe parts and products sold online and in stores by at least 51 dealers across the U.S.

Giraffe parts are considered by consumers as a “new exotic,” popular in part as an alternative to ivory and other products for which regulations have tightened. The investigation revealed a wide variety of giraffe parts and products easily available through wholesalers and retailers in the U.S., including a giraffe taxidermy ($8,000), a custom-made giraffe jacket ($5,500), a full giraffe hide ($4,500), a giraffe hide rug ($3,000), a giraffe skull ($500), a knife with a giraffe bone handle ($450), a giraffe leather Bible cover ($400), a giraffe tail hair bracelet ($10) and a giraffe foot ($75).

Some sellers told investigators that they had received giraffe parts from trophy hunters. Several promised that new giraffe trophies were arriving soon and that they were taking custom orders for products, and others falsely claimed that giraffes were dangerous and needed to be killed to protect African villages.

On average, more than one giraffe per day is imported into the U.S. by American trophy hunters. Giraffe are targeted so hunters can bring home exotic trophies, and the Africa hunting outfitters who arrange the hunts sell the leftover giraffe parts: skin, bones, feet, tail. U.S. law does not prohibit the trade in giraffe parts. 

This week, CITES also rejected proposals to open up international commercial trade in elephant ivory. Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe had proposed they be allowed to lift restrictions on their Appendix II CITES listings to allow trade in registered government-owned ivory stock piles. They offered a floor amendment to allow a one-off sale followed by a six-year moratorium. The amended proposal was defeated with only 23 countries in support, 101 opposing and 18 abstentions. Zambia proposed that its elephant population be down listed from Appendix I to Appendix II, also so that it could trade in its registered raw ivory and other elephant specimens. Its proposal was overwhelmingly defeated as well with 22 in support, 102 opposed and 13 abstentions.

Wild species of animals and plants are expected to become extinct over the next few decades at a more rapid rate than ever before largely as a result of human activities. The CITES meeting heard how one of the best ways to reduce these losses will be to build close and mutually beneficial relationships between humans and wildlife. The question of how rural communities can be best engaged in the CITES decision-making process, for example through a permanent committee in CITES, remains to be decided by the Parties.

“The mostly poor and vulnerable individuals who live closest to nature are at the frontline of the biodiversity crisis. By promoting partnerships between governments, local communities and the private sector, the legally binding CITES regime seeks to ensure that the people who live with wildlife see the value to them in its survival. Over the coming years we need to identify and explore with Parties untapped opportunities for local conservation action through partnerships,” said CITES Secretary-General, Ivonne Higuero.

Countries around the world that are Parties to CITES have identified success stories that demonstrate how well-managed legal and sustainable trade in wild animals and plants can positively support both the livelihoods of rural communities and the conservation of species in the wild. Over 30 case studies have been collected recently from Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, North America and South America. They involve the sustainable use of a wide range of species, from mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish to corals and medicinal aromatic plants.