At a time when the giraffe population is plummeting in the wild, the sale of products made with giraffe skin and bone is booming.
According to a report released Thursday by the Humane Society of the United States and its international affiliate, more than 40,000 giraffe parts were imported to the United States from 2006 to 2015 to be made into expensive pillows, boots, knife handles, bible covers and other trinkets.
The sale of these products is legal, but the organization argues that restrictions are needed. Along with other advocacy groups, it has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide that protection by listing giraffes as an endangered species.
They issued the report now “to ramp up the pressure and show the public the true nature of the giraffe trade in the U.S., and show the administration that the public loves giraffes and really wants their government to take action to protect this animal,” said Adam Peyman, manager of wildlife programs and operations for the Humane Society International.
In 2016, a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources determined that the worldwide giraffe population had plummeted from 150,000 to 100,000 since 1985. Giraffes face two main threats, the report found: habitat loss and poaching by locals in search of bushmeat.
Trophy hunting seems to be the primary source of the animals arriving in the U.S., but it isn’t driving the animals to extinction, Peyman said. But any market for giraffe products puts more pressure on the species. Listing under the Endangered Species Act means that imports, exports and interstate commerce require a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service, which must determine whether the action enhances the survival of the species.
The trophy hunters, Peyman said, often take the head and part of the neck of the giraffe for their own use, leaving the rest of the animal to be sold off by the outfitter who arranged the hunt.
The Safari Club International, which promotes hunters’ rights and wildlife conservation, said that “despite the rhetoric in the media, legal regulated hunting is one of the most effective means of conservation.” The statement also referenced the same 2016 IUCN study to ague that giraffe populations are healthier in nations like Angola where there is legal hunting; and have declined precipitously in Kenya where hunting is illegal.