A new report is drawing attention to fact that thousands of giraffe parts are imported into the U.S. for sale each year—which is extremely legal and fine according to U.S. and international law. Wait, what?!
The report, which the Humane Society published Thursday following an investigation into the U.S. giraffe market, found that market to be positively thriving. Parts of the long-necked African animals are being sold from coast to coast, in form of everything from giraffe leather boots that run $400 a pop to custom jackets fetching up to $5,500. Giraffe parts were also found in bar stools, pistol grips, bracelets, and bible covers (yes, bible covers). The report estimated that nearly 40,000 giraffe parts and products from some 4,000 giraffes were imported over the past decade, most of them supplied by American trophy hunters.
As medieval as it may sound, most of this activity is entirely legal, according to Sue Lieberman, the vice president for international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society. She told Earther she was “not surprised” by the numbers.
Lieberman explained that because giraffes aren’t protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), there’s nothing to stop a hunter who shot an animal legally from bringing its carcass back to the U.S. and selling the parts.
This is happening even as populations have dropped nearly 40 percent over the past 30 years, a decline that prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to list the animals as vulnerable in 2016. But while conservation groups launched a petition to get giraffes listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) last spring—a status that would prohibit the commercial import and export of parts—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made no moves to do so.
That’s part of the reason the Humane Society, which was part of the group that filed the petition for an ESA listing, conducted the new investigation.
“The main purpose of the investigation was to open the eyes of the public to the fact that giraffe parts and products are being sold, pretty much across the United States,” Adam Peyman, manager of wildlife programs and operations at Humane Society International, told Earther.
As eye opening as the report is, Lieberman emphasized that trophy hunting is far from what’s driving giraffe populations down.
“The major threats to giraffes are habitat loss and land conversion,” she said, noting that many populations of giraffes have become geographically isolated in recent years. Illegal poaching is also playing a role in giraffes’ decline.
Lieberman hadn’t reviewed the ESA petition carefully enough to say how much of a shot it has. But she did note that Fish and Wildlife currently has a serious backlog of petitions and that the office dealing with them is “underfunded and under-resourced.”
There’s also the fact that the Interior Department is currently helmed by Ryan Zinke, who by all accounts thinks trophy hunting is pretty darn swell.
“I can’t predict what this administration will do,” Lieberman said. “But I doubt they will move to do anything that will restrict importation of trophies.”
So, to sum up, it’s 2018 and you can legally buy a holy book wrapped in the skin of imperiled African megafauna. Cool.