Giraffes were first placed on the world’s most trusted extinction watch list in 2016 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Previously a species of “least concern,” the IUCN replaced that status with a more urgent designation, “vulnerable,” and moved two subspecies of giraffes to the “endangered” stage.
Things are not looking good for the giraffe, and the United States, though thousands of miles away from the animals’ natural habitat, is a major contributor to its disappearance.
Giraffes are not considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which means there are no restrictions on importing parts of them into the country. According to the Smithsonian, this is an oft exploited loophole, as at least 40,000 giraffe skins and body parts have been imported into the U.S. in the last 10 years.
An Humane Society International investigation turned up 51 dealers of giraffe parts in the U.S., willing to sell taxidermied giraffes of nearly any age, along with rugs, jewelry, book covers, even skulls. Wholesale giraffe leather sells for about $25 a square foot, but the most common item sold by giraffe part retailers was giraffe skin boots, which go for around $400 a pair.
Giraffe items for sale in the U.S. include:
- Giraffe leather: dyed and de-haired, mostly unrecognizable as giraffe
- Giraffe hide and hide products with the intact, distinctive giraffe fur pattern
- Raw giraffe bones and skulls, uncarved
- Giraffe bones, carved or etched, sold as home décor
- Giraffe bone knife and pistol-making supplies
- Imported knives with giraffe bone handles (from South Africa)
- Giraffe taxidermy
- Giraffe tail-hair bracelets
Some of the traders maintain that their goods are from parts left behind by trophy hunters. Others make the claim that giraffes are actually a threat to human villages, and must be killed as a matter of defense.
Other groups, like Safari Club International, which advocates for hunter’s rights, claim that hunting giraffes helps conserve the species in the long run, with hunting fees being funneled towards protectionary measures poorer nations could not otherwise afford, though there is no evidence this is where the money actually goes.
“Our investigation indicates that trophy hunting outfitters in Africa are capitalizing on every last bit of these beautiful animals,” Adam Peyman, manager of wildlife programs and operations for HSI, told The Guardian. “They are selling them to taxidermists, animal product manufacturers and dealers, who in turn market them to sellers in the US. As this is completely unregulated, it is an easy alternative for products from other, more protected species like elephants and lions, but may still have the similar macabre allure.
“The prices of these products vary widely, but it is clear that outfitters and dealers try to squeeze every last dollar out of the carcasses of these animals, evidenced especially by the grotesque pillow our investigator found that was furnished from a giraffe’s face, eyelashes and all.”
HSI maintains that the giraffe population has declined at least 40 percent over the last three decades, and the continued import of their hides and bones only makes matters worse.
“Giraffes are facing a myriad of threats including poaching and habitat fragmentation,” HSI reports. “Their dire conservation status should not be further compounded by the horror of trophy hunters bent on killing them for senseless and gruesome trophies.”
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.