Nature

From pillows to Bible covers, nearly 40,000 giraffe parts have been imported to the US in past 10 years

The 40,000 body parts likely represent about 4,000 dead giraffes, many purchased from trophy hunters, according to US Humane Society

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 10:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 10:00am

The giraffe population has fallen by around 40 per cent since 1990. There are now fewer than 100,000 giraffes alive in the world, and there are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa.

Yet in America, trade in giraffe parts is booming. A report by the Humane Society of the United States, released on Thursday, found that nearly 40,000 giraffe parts have been imported to the US over the past decade, the equivalent, they estimate, of nearly 4,000 individual giraffes.

Researchers found giraffe products on sale in nearly 52 US locations. The most common products were giraffe hide boots and speciality knives made from giraffe bone, but they also found giraffe rugs, furniture and giraffe skin Bible covers.

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When researchers interviewed those selling giraffe products they found that many admitted they had purchased the products from trophy hunters.

Two sellers, BS Trading in Texas and Whitten Cases in Florida, made claims to investigators that aggressive herds of giraffes must be killed in order to save African villages. The Humane Society says this is false, and that recent expert evaluation of giraffe species has found no evidence of either aggressive giraffe behaviour or retaliatory killings of giraffes. Neither store responded immediately to requests for comment.

Some trophy hunters, including American woman Tess Thompson Talley who made headlines after she hunted a wild giraffe in South Africa last year, claim that their hunts are part of conservation efforts, and the money raised from them goes into protecting other species. But Adam Peyman, the programmes and operations manager at the Humane Society, said trophy hunters are able to make considerable profits from participating in the giraffe trade.

“Our investigation indicates that trophy hunting outfitters in Africa are capitalising on every last bit of these beautiful animals,” he said. “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.”

In March, giraffes were moved to a list of vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one level below endangered. In the US, giraffes are also not listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, which means all the sales of giraffe parts are legal. The Humane Society is currently campaigning to have giraffes listed as an endangered species under the act.