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African nations call for restrictions on giraffe trade after populations fall by 40%

'Demand for giraffe is increasing because there are no regulations – it’s so easy to obtain, you don’t need a permit to buy it'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Saturday 02 March 2019 14:08 GMT
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Urgent restrictions are needed on the international trade in giraffe bones and spotted hides, a coalition of African countries has said.

Populations of giraffes have fallen by up to 40 per cent in the last 30 years, driven by poaching, habitat loss and human conflicts across much of their range.

But while sales of elephant and rhino products face ever tighter controls, the “silent extinction” of giraffes has so far been overlooked.

Campaigners have warned that the flood of hunting trophies, giraffe bone ornaments and hides is contributing to their demise.

A group of 30 concerned African states is now pushing for giraffes to receive special protection under CITES, an international treaty that controls the trade in endangered species.

The members of the African Elephant Coalition – including giraffe range states such as Kenya, Chad and Niger – are calling on the EU to back their proposal.

Abba Sonko, who leads CITES activities in coalition member Senegal, said the Appendix II listing for giraffes would place “much-needed control” on international trade.

“We want to do everything we can to help protect giraffes in our countries and prevent the extinction of the species,” he said. “The extinction of giraffes has already become a reality in Senegal, unfortunately.”

As it stands, the group is unlikely to convince the required two thirds majority at the next CITES meeting in May to back the move, but the support of the European bloc may swing the campaign.

“The EU is a big influencer in whether the proposals pass,” said wildlife trade expert Adam Peyman from Humane Society International, which is supporting the proposal.

The CITES classification would not consist of an outright ban on giraffe products, but would allow authorities to track their movements and ensure they were not contributing to declines in wild populations.

So far, the EU’s reluctance to support the move is based partly on the lack of universal support from African countries, and the fact that trade in giraffes often originates from nations where populations are relatively stable.

However, HSI said there was evidence of giraffe products being moved from unsustainable countries to sustainable ones before being shipped to markets overseas.

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Over the past decade, 40,000 giraffe parts have been imported to the US, and investigations have also revealed a thriving trade in the UK and other parts of Europe.

Unlike other exotic products such as ivory – which has been the subject of very strict bans in the UK and EU – giraffe bones and hide are not subject to much scrutiny.

“Demand for giraffe is increasing because there are no regulations – it’s so easy to obtain, you don’t need a permit or anything to buy it,” said Mr Peyman.

The European Commission and member states are weighing up their potential support for the proposal, with a deadline set for the end of March.

The Independent has contacted the European Commission for comment.

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