Shocking numbers have been revealed that lay bare the threat of extinction facing giraffes as a result of American trophy hunting.
It is estimated that the giraffe population of sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a 40% drop in the previous decade, largely caused by trophy hunting by American tourists.
Just under 100,000 giraffes are thought to remain, with many environmentalists now calling on the United States to declare them as an endangered species to prevent their 'silent extinction'.
21,402 giraffe bone carvings have been imported to the United States in the last decade, as well as 3,008 pieces of skin and 3,744 other hunting trophies. It is estimated that 3,700 giraffes were killed by trophy hunters in the last ten years.
If the United States were to designate giraffes as an endangered species, it would mean that trophy hunters would have to prove that their hunting was for the purposes of conservation in order for it to be legal for them to bring trophies back to the US.
"When I was doing research on giraffes in Kenya a few years ago, they were quite abundant and no one questioned that they were doing well," Jeff Flocken, regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in North America, told the Guardian.
"Only recently have we looked at them critically and seen this huge drop, which has been a shock to the conservation community. This is an iconic animal and it's in deep trouble."
Masha Kalinina, a specialist with the Humane Society, agreed and told the paper: "Currently, no US or international law protects giraffes against overexploitation for trade," she said.
"It is clearly time to change this. As the largest importer of trophies in the world, the role of the United States in the decline of this species is undeniable, and we must do our part to protect these animals."
A group of wildlife charities have now begun legal proceedings against the Trump administration in an attempt to force them to act on giraffe extinction.
The Centre for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States and Natural Resources Defence Council have filed a federal lawsuit that claims that the government failed to respond to a petition that reached the federally-mandated limit that ensures that the government has to respond.
"The Trump administration would rather allow its rich donors to mount giraffe trophies on their walls than protect giraffes," said Elly Pepper, deputy director of the Natural Resources Defence Council's Wildlife Trade Initiative.
"Giraffes are headed toward extinction, in part due to our country's importation of giraffe parts and trophies. It's shameful - though unsurprising - that the Interior Department has refused to protect them under the Endangered Species Act, and I hope the courts will agree."
Featured Image Credit: PA