(CNN) — The United States is considering giving new protection to giraffes, whose numbers have dropped dramatically in recent decades.
The petition to protect giraffes, which was filed by a coalition of conservation groups in April 2017, says the animals are “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
“With fewer giraffes left in Africa than elephants, it is imperative that we tum our attention to these unique animals before it is too late,” the petition said.
The petition says giraffes are threatened by habitat loss, drought, diseases and hunting — both legal sport hunting and poaching.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed giraffes as “vulnerable” in its 2016 “Red List” of endangered species and said their populations had fallen by up to 40% over the last 30 years.
A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the lawsuit did not affect the timing of the decision.
“The service uses the best available science to make listing decisions and the review will not be issued until after the comment period closes,” she said.
“One of the goals for the Endangered Species Act, if something is threatened with extinction, we want to cut off market demand for that species,” said Tanya Sanerib, the international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who helped write the petition.
The United States imported 3,744 giraffe trophies between 2006 and 2015, according to government data cited in the petition. Almost 40,000 giraffe specimens were imported during that time, including 21,400 bone carvings, 4,789 bones and 1,903 bone pieces, 3,008 skin pieces and 855 skins and jewelry, leather goods and other products.
Sanerib said the bones are popular for carving, knife handles and other decorative uses.
“There’s a big concern that it’s becoming the new ivory,” she said.
Demand for meat is also driving poaching in Africa.
“Giraffes are being coveted for meat. I mean obviously it’s a huge animal, if you kill a giraffe you get a lot of meat. And there’s a cross-border, trans-boundary trade in giraffe meat happening in Africa,” she said
“Without offering anything in return, an ESA (Endangered Species Act) listing could reduce the revenues and incentives currently being generated by hunting. That means reduced habitat protection, less funding for anti-poaching and fewer benefits for the rural people who live side-by-side with giraffes and other wildlife,” the group said. “SCI opposes the proposed listing because it is a bad bargain for the giraffe.”