The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has just voted to regulate the trade in giraffes in an attempt to save the majestic mammals from extinction. Between 2006 and 2015, a vast 40,000 giraffe parts, such as skins, bones, and hunting “trophies”, were imported into the USA alone as a result of trophy hunting. The new CITES decision aims to curb this international trade, which is damaging wild giraffe populations.
Representatives from over 180 countries are currently meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss changes to regulations on wildlife trade. Other changes to come out of the conference include a move to ban the capture of wild African elephants for use in international zoos and a decision to double the number of black rhinos that can be killed by trophy hunters in South Africa.
A total of 106 countries voted in favor of regulating the trade in giraffes, with 21 countries opposed and seven abstaining. Meanwhile, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently debating whether to protect giraffes under the Endangered Species Act, an important piece of legislation currently under threat from the Trump administration. The new regulations will involve the tracking of giraffe exports, both dead and alive, and require importers to apply for permits.
There are fewer than 100,000 giraffes in the wild today. While that might sound like a lot, it is nothing compared to historic numbers; populations declined by a worrying 40 percent between 1985 and 2015. Scientists sometimes refer to giraffes’ decline as a “silent extinction”. Threats include habitat loss, war and civil unrest, poaching, and conflict with humans through eating crops.
The new motion was proposed by a number of nations whose giraffe populations have seen drastic declines, including Mali, Senegal, Kenya, and Chad. However, a handful of African countries with more stable giraffe populations, such as Botswana, South Africa, and Tanzania, opposed the move to regulate trade, arguing that trophy hunting is not largely responsible for giraffes’ declines and brings in money that can be put towards conservation.
The trophy hunting debate is certainly a complex one. Hunters will pay thousands of dollars to kill a single animal, money that can be used to conserve the wildlife that remains. However, many conservationists argue that targeting the most impressive beasts, as trophy hunters often do, has a negative effect on the gene pool and that removing powerful males can have unintended consequences for the wider population. For example, killing a male lion leaves the females and cubs in his pride open to domination by a new male who may kill the existing cubs. Others make the point that killing animals for sport is both unnecessary and cruel.
Conservationists are hailing the new giraffe trade regulations as a triumph, and although the results need to be officially confirmed in a final vote this week, the decision is likely to stand.
“This is wonderful news for giraffes, and we’re grateful for the international support for everyone’s favorite long-necked mammal,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “After the grim warning from UN scientists in May, it’s clear that CITES has its work cut out for it to stem the extinction crisis. Wildlife overexploitation, including by trade, was identified as the second greatest driver of species’ extinction. CITES parties have to focus and fund conservation, including for species like giraffes, if they’re to have a future.”