April the giraffe's wild cousins could get some extra protection if a league of wildlife groups has their say.
Five major wildlife protection groups on Wednesday petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Earth’s tallest land animal under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
“Giraffes have been dying off silently for decades, and we have to act quickly before they disappear forever,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups who prepared the petition.
“There are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa," she said. "It’s time for the United States to step up and protect these extraordinary creatures.”
Giraffe populations have declined almost 40% over the past 30 years, mostly because of hunting for bushmeat, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and the international trade in giraffe bone carvings and hunting trophies, the Natural Resources Defense Council, another group that's petitioning, said.
Today, just 97,000 giraffes live in the wild, down from between 151,000 and 163,000 in 1985.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature last fall elevated the threat level of giraffes from “least concern” to “vulnerable” on its list of threatened species. But giraffes currently have no protection under U.S. law.
Listing the giraffe as endangered would ban most imports of giraffe parts into the U.S. and limit exports; help regulate the domestic trade in giraffe trophies and parts; and help reduce trophy hunting of giraffes.
Other groups filing the petition include Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“I can’t – and won’t – imagine Africa’s landscape without giraffes,” said Elly Pepper, deputy director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s wildlife trade initiative.
“Losing one of the continent’s iconic species would be an absolute travesty," she said. "Giving giraffes Endangered Species Act protections would be a giant step in the fight to save them from extinction.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to review and respond to the petition to determine if a listing is warranted.