Giraffes must be protected from trophy hunter loophole, campaigners say as Government under pressure to act

Helena Horton
Giraffe bone handles, a Bible cover, and  a giraffe foot are among grisly items traded in the EU - MTI

Giraffes must be protected from a trophy hunting loophole as they face "silent extinction", campaigners have said as MPs pressure Michael Gove to act.

As it stands, the elegant creatures are currently given no protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means they can be killed indiscriminately, with their carcasses exported around the globe as trophies.

As the species has declined by up to 40 percent in the past 30 years, animal rights organisations, celebrities and MPs have urged our government and the EU to pressure CITES to classify giraffes as Appendix II animals, meaning they would be given protection against the trophy hunting trade.

Celebrities including Martin Clunes OBE, Deborah Meaden, Susan George, Virginia McKenna OBE, Brian Blessed OBE, and Fiona Shaw CBE, have written to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella urging him to support a proposal by African nations to protect the imperiled giraffe.

The proposal will be discussed at a meeting of CITES in Colombo, Sri Lanka starting in late May, but its success hinges on the support of the EU voting block.

The letter reads: “The world’s tallest mammal is beloved by many for its beauty and grace. This iconic species is suffering a 'silent extinction' because few are aware of their plight. Giraffe populations have decreased approximately 40% in the last 30 years. If we do not act quickly the giraffe could disappear forever.”

The proposal has been put forward by the Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal, and is supported by the 32 African nation members of the African Elephant Coalition, which released a declaration last month in recognition of the steep decline in giraffe populations.

A cross-party group of MPs has written to Michael Gove, asking him to support the proposal and pressure CITES to protect the giraffe.

MPs including Conservatives Zac Goldsmith, Simon Clarke, Alex Chalk and Richard Benyon, as well as Labour MP John Mann and independent MP Frank Field have signed the letter.

They urged: "The UK has a long-standing history of supporting animal welfare and conservation, and we are proud of the leadership this Government has shown in hosting last year’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference and in passing a comprehensive ivory ban into law.

"Whilst there are several reasons for this huge decline in giraffe numbers, including habitat destruction and human-animal conflict, there are alarming reports of an increase in giraffe hunting trophies and products being sold and traded. Greater protection under CITES would regulate this trade and make sure that it does not threaten the worldwide population.

"We urge you to build on the UK’s record in helping to conserve elephants and rhinos, by taking a stand at the next CITES meeting in May and joining African nations in making sure that giraffes are better protected. This meeting needs to be a turning point in reversing the decline in giraffe numbers, and the UK is well placed to lead on this."

Virginia McKenna OBE, actress and co-founder of The Born Free Foundation, said: “The trivial items - giraffe bone handles, a Bible cover, a giraffe foot - made from the parts of dead giraffes - should be objects of shame. The world has gone mad if people value these more than the living, beautiful creatures which play such a vital role in the survival of the African Savannah. Animals suffer and feel pain as we do- or don’t we care?”

Adam Peyman, Humane Society International’s wildlife programs and operations manager, said: “The giraffe is going quietly extinct as they are slaughtered for trophies and their body parts used for trinkets. As there are currently no regulations on trade in giraffes, a CITES listing would provide critical measures to ensure giraffes are not pushed to the brink of extinction, and the EU’s vote holds the key to its success.”