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It’s complicated. There are approximately 68,000 giraffes left in the wild. But the number of giraffes has plummeted dramatically in the past three decades—by up to 40%. Some people refer to this as “silent extinction” because it’s been such a slow decline that it’s almost gone unnoticed. But luckily some conservationists were paying attention (we love those peeps!). All the typical reasons are at play: loss of habitat, civil unrest and poaching. But since giraffes were never afforded protection from trade until 2019 (thanks to the hard work of IFAW and aforementioned conservationists), pointing precisely to illegal trade of their parts is difficult.
What this means, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is that anyone wishing to trade internationally in giraffes will have to prove that trade is legal and sustainable. Conservationists (there they are again!) saw this protection as a huge win because it had been impossible to say how much the decline in the giraffe population was due to trade vs. other factors. With the U.S. being the only country to collect trade data on giraffes, we know that almost 40,000 giraffe items were traded in a decade.
So, what parts of the giraffe are traded and considered valuable to poachers? Similar to elephant tusks for ivory, there’s a significant amount of international trade in giraffe bone carvings and trophies. Of those 40,000 items mentioned, conservative estimates point to at least 3,751 individual giraffes, including 21,402 bone carvings, 3,008 skin pieces and 3,744 hunting trophies.
That’s why, according to Matt Collis, Deputy Vice President of Conservation for IFAW, “This listing on Appendix II [by CITES] is an important step in regulating giraffe trade, preventing any illegal and unsustainable trade and helping to safeguard this iconic species for future generations.”
CITES classifies the urgency for species protection based on an Appendix system. Appendix II lists species that aren’t necessarily threatened with extinction now, but that may become extinct unless trade is closely controlled. And like any protection, this won’t prevent or stop all trade of giraffe parts, but it will ensure that trade isn’t further contributing to population declines and, most importantly, provides global data that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Giraffes have been listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List since 2016, with some of their nine subspecies classified as endangered or critically endangered.
Besides the factors listed above, giraffes don’t produce a lot of babies. Typically mothers are pregnant for about 15 months and, in most cases, only one calf is born. And while female giraffes birth five or six calves during their lives (on average), it’s likely that only half will survive. To make matters worse, giraffes once populated much of the semi-arid and savannah woodlands of Africa, but they’ve become extinct in seven African countries. Protecting them is our only way to ensure their continued survival.
IFAW is working hard to keep giraffes safe and part of that requires a trained and well-equipped ranger force including national park rangers, members of local communities, and law enforcement officers. These groups openly share information and use high-tech data collection to detect crime before it happens and prevent poaching.
All of this coordination requires funding, for the rangers and the technology. Your donation helps ensure that our conservation programs and projects continue to protect giraffes and all wildlife.