New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has just signed into law a groundbreaking bill that makes the Empire State the first in the nation—and the world—to designate giraffes as a vulnerable species and ban the trade in their body parts.
The bill also offers similar protections to other animal species fast heading toward extinction, including the hippopotamus, seven species of pangolins and the star tortoise.
Assemblymember Steve Englebright and Sen.Monica Martinez introduced the measure last year after a shocking undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International found giraffe parts and products sold online and in stores by at least 51 dealers in New York and across the United States. Our investigators found New York-based businesses selling knife handles made from giraffe bones, as well as jackets, boots, pillows and even bible covers made from giraffe skins.
Giraffes, with their tall necks, long eyelashes and distinctive patterning, are beloved by millions of people around the world. But despite their iconic status, the conservation of giraffes has been overlooked for decades and as a result they are in the midst of what some call a “silent extinction.” Wild giraffe populations have plunged nearly 40 percent in the past 30 years, and now stand at just over 68,000 mature individuals. While a great deal of this decline has been driven by habitat destruction and illegal hunting for bushmeat, wildlife trafficking and trophy hunting have also played a significant role.
The United States, the world’s largest importer of wildlife products, shoulders a good part of the blame. More than one giraffe trophy is imported into the country each day, according to trade data analyzed by HSI, and between 2006 and 2015, the United States imported approximately 40,000 giraffe articles, including about 21,000 giraffe bone carvings, nearly 4,000 raw bones, about 3,000 skin pieces, almost 2,000 raw bone pieces, and more than 700 skins.
That’s why we are pursuing protections for giraffes at the federal and international level. Last April, following a petition and a lawsuit filed by the HSUS, HSI and other conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that giraffes may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has until next spring to decide whether the ESA listing is warranted.
Earlier this year, HSI successfully led the effort to support a proposal by five African countries to protect giraffes from overexploitation in international trade, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These are the first such international protections for giraffes and they went into effect just days ago.
We thank Gov. Cuomo and New York for standing tall for giraffes today, and for showing just how our states can play a role in conserving this important species. No giraffe should have to die for a knife handle or a jacket, and we cannot act soon enough to end our nation’s role in the trafficking of giraffe body parts.