Poaching and legal hunting have also contributed to the decline.
NEW YORK.- Federal wildlife officials said Thursday that they would officially consider listing the giraffe as an endangered species, a move long sought by conservationists alarmed by the African mammal’s precipitous decline and a growing domestic market for giraffe products.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that it had found “substantial information” that listing giraffes as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act “may be warranted.” The finding came more than two years after conservation groups petitioned the Trump administration for the protection, warning that the animals were in danger of extinction.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will now begin an in-depth review before making a final decision. The process could take years, conservationists said. Designating giraffes as endangered or threatened would place restrictions on their import into the United States and make federal funding available for conservation efforts.
Conservationists also hope that a listing could elevate the giraffes’ plight, which they said was often overshadowed by higher-profile initiatives to protect lions, elephants and other distinctive animals. “Tons of money is poured into conservation projects for these species,” said Adam Peyman, manager of wildlife programs and operations for the Humane Society International. “Giraffes just don’t enjoy that.”
Tanya Sanerib, international legal director and senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the agency’s decision to conduct the in-depth review on giraffes was akin to clearing a “tiny little hurdle.” The bigger obstacle, she said, would be actually listing giraffes as endangered or threatened.
Peyman said it was not clear whether the agency would ultimately decide to protect giraffes. It could say that giraffes do not deserve protections under the Endangered Species Act, or that the federal government’s limited resources should be focused on other species. The population of giraffes, the tallest land animals on the planet, has declined about 40 percent in the last 30 years, according to the groups’ petition.
They estimate the population today is close to 97,000. Among the biggest threats to giraffes is habitat loss driven by the expansion of cities, agriculture and timber harvest. Poaching and legal hunting have also contributed to the decline.