Southern Africa giraffe populations have increased by more than 160% in the past 30 years.
On April 19, 2017, five "wildlife protection" organizations submitted a petition to the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to list all giraffe subspecies as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In the alternative, the petition seeks to list all giraffe species as threatened, with certain distinct population segments to be listed as endangered. The organizations signing the petition include Humane Society International, Humane Society United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. This petition is the third in a series, following petitions to up-list all elephant and all leopard from threatened to endangered.
These organizations are trying to stop lawful hunting by erecting ESA barriers. They admit as much in their press releases when they claim the listing of giraffe will be an "important protection" for "saving" the species from "overexploitation." This bias against sustainable use is also clear in the petition's focus.
But there is a big problem with the petition's analysis. Just like elephant and leopard, giraffe are doing the best in countries that rely upon sustainable use as a conservation tool. According to the IUCN Red List
, in southern Africa giraffe populations have increased by more than 160% in the past 30 years. In the three countries that currently allow safari hunting (Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe), giraffe populations are indisputably increasing. To the contrary, giraffe are doing the worst in countries that restrict sustainable use or ban hunting. For example, as the petition itself admits, Kenya has lost three-quarters of its reticulated giraffe and half its Masai giraffe over the past 20 years.
The 2016 IUCN Red List
assessment identifies habitat loss, civil unrest, poaching, and ecological change due to mining and climate warming as the main threats to giraffe. Lawful hunting is not referenced as having any
impact on the species, much less a negative impact. However, the listing petition barely engages with these identified threats. The petition spends only two pages discussing habitat loss and only two paragraphs on civil unrest and ecological change. It discusses illegal bushmeat poaching for four short pages-although that factor has greatly affected populations in Kenya, Tanzania, Central Africa, and elsewhere. However, the petition discusses "overutilization," with an undeserved focus on lawful hunting, for 18 pages and two appendices! The petition is clearly written from an ideological perspective, not a scientific one. And it is clearly misguided. Listing the giraffe will not help to reverse its decline. It will have a limited impact on most of the range states. But listing the giraffe may devalue the species where it is currently hunted, and increase the risks of habitat loss and poaching, adding to the real threats.
Conservation Force will oppose the petition should the FWS find it provides substantial information to warrant further review. However, we believe the FWS cannot list the giraffe subspecies whose populations have increased. Simply put, how can a species be at risk of extinction, now or in the "foreseeable future," if its population has doubled in 10 or 15 years? Stay tuned as the process moves forward. As with our Cape mountain zebra petition, the FWS must first make a positive 90-day finding then open its status up for public comment.