Environmental groups are formally threatening to sue the Trump administration to compel officials to institute new protections for giraffes.
The groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International.
The groups asked the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the giraffe under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in April 2017, but the agency did not respond in the 90-day allotted time.
“As giraffe populations plummet, the Trump administration won’t even take the first step toward protecting these beautiful animals,” Tanya Sanerib, international program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
“Africa now has fewer giraffes than elephants, but the administration refuses to throw these imperiled creatures a lifeline. That has to change, before it’s too late.”
In their petition, the conservation groups said they “are concerned we may forever lose these unique and fascinating animals if ESA protections are not extended to this species, especially because the species is not protected from trade under international law.”
The ESA requires litigants to file notice 90 days before suing over species protections.
The giraffe is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but the FWS has no protections of its own for the species.
Only about 97,500 giraffes remain in their native Africa today, compared with about 150,000 in 1985, the green groups said in their petition, citing data by the international agency.
Since the giraffe is not native to the United States, an ESA listing would not mandate the traditional habitat protections and prohibitions on harming or killing them like it would for a domestic, native species.
Instead, the FWS could regulate imports and exports of giraffes and their body parts, including trophies, as well as interstate selling and buying.
The green groups say those rules could significantly protect the species.
“As a significant importer of giraffes and their parts, and as a global leader in conservation, the U.S. can make a large and positive impact on the international trade of the species,” they wrote.