African giraffes are in danger of “silent extinction”, experts have warned, as countries are set to meet to discuss ways regulate international wildlife trade that is threatening to wipe out certain species.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which starts on Saturday, will discuss ways to regulate trade in products from giraffes, whose numbers have plummeted.
A recent UN-based global assessment of nature warned that around a million species are at risk of extinction, partly due to hunting and trading.
Giraffe numbers have fallen by up to 40% over the last 30 years due to threats including trading, illegal hunting, civil war and habitat loss, leading to what conservationists have dubbed a “silent extinction”.
Giraffes were listed as a species of “least concern” on the 2010 International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list but by 2016 had moved to “vulnerable”.
“This is why for the giraffe we speak of the threat of a silent extinction,” said Jenna Stacy-Dawes, research coordinator at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
Proposals at ‘Cites’ include a bid by the Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal to regulate the trade in products from giraffes.
Matt Collis, director of international policy at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) said: “It is important that giraffes are listed by Cites because currently we can’t say for certain how much of their huge population decline is due to trade.
“We do know it is a significant factor though as the only country that currently collects data on trade in giraffes, the US, has reported almost 40,000 giraffe items traded in a decade, from 2006 to 2015.”
The agenda also includes efforts to protect jaguars and Asian otters, as well as the regularly international trade in new species of sharks, under threat due to the demand for fins and meat.
Rebecca Regnery from Humane Society International, said: “The threat that sharks and rays face from the shark fin trade are now so severe that the future survival of many species hangs in the balance as nations prepare to gather at the Cites wildlife conference.”
Cites will also include discussions over elephants, with several African countries seeking changes that will allow them to sell their ivory stocks in order to support further conservation.
Mr Collis warned that previous “one-off sales” of legal ivory pushed up poaching by providing cover for illegal sales and said it was “not a viable way of dealing with the crisis”.
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