Tourist trophy hunters are paying thousands of pounds to go and shoot giraffes with high-powered guns and bows.
The gentle giants are loved around the world for their comical appearance and gentle nature. Just like character ‘Melman’ played by Friend’s-star David Schwimmer in Disney’s Madagascar, they are a hit with kids who love their long necks and eyelashes.
But shocking images show how scores of big-spending men and women – and even families – travel from across the globe, some even from Britain, to kill them for sport.
Hunters pay up to a whopping £10,000 for the the chance to slay them – preferring bulls because they are the biggest.
Safari clubs and game reserves ask for a £1,500 trophy fee, and then add on rates for guides and trackers costing around £1,000 per day.
The hunts typically last three-to-five days and see tourists using .458 Winchester Magnum rifles to kill the animals.
With most hunters flying to Africa from their homes in Europe or America, the costs stretch into five figures.
The hunting continues even though numbers of the animals are plummeting.
But the world’s leading giraffe expert said populations in the countries where it is legal – South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe – can cope with the killings.
The latest statistic show the number of giraffes in the world have nearly halved since 1988 from over 140,000 to less than 80,000.
Dr. Julian Fennessy produced the report for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
Another recent IUCN report suggests the giraffe may already need to be listed as a threatened species – because some populations are being decimated in places like West Africa and DR Congo.
They are already thought to be extinct in Angola, Mali and Nigeria.
Dr. Fennessy also founded Giraffe Conservation Foundation – the only dedicated giraffe conservation group in the world.
He said: ‘I’m not interested in hunting giraffe, but hunters obviously get a kick out of it like others enjoy a game of squash or cooking. It’s a complicated argument. There are lots of factors.
‘The loss of habitat and breaking up of populations by man-made constructions are the main factors threatening their numbers.
‘In the countries where you can hunt legally, the populations are increasing but across Africa the overall numbers are dropping alarmingly.
‘It shows that if properly managed with proper policy and controls, the hunting can be sustainable.’
In some African countries legal hunting can actually help local communities by bringing in money and making meat available to them.
‘Many hunting staff like guides, trackers and skinners who assist the tourists are paid in meat from the kills,’ added Dr. Fennessy.
‘If the tourist has paid the fee for the trophy, the carcass is theirs. Some just like to have photo taken next to the dead giraffe, but others pay taxidermists to mount the head a neck so they can take them home as a souvenir.
‘Or they might want to take the skin home.’
He added: ‘Some hunters come from Britain but the big majority are from North America, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia. ‘The worst part of trophy hunting is the fact that the hunters can miss their target and fail to kill the giraffe quickly.
‘If they don’t hit the right spot then it can lead to suffering for the animal. ‘They might have a ‘second gun’ in the party whose job it is to take the animal down quickly if the tourist misses.
‘But hunting guides need to assess the ability of the hunter and stop the hunt if they do not have the skills to do it humanely.’
Another factors decimating the giraffe population is poaching. ‘Poaching is illegal and is not licensed,’ said Dr. Fennessy.
‘They set wire snares at giraffe-height in the trees to snare their necks, or to trap their feet and kill them when they return. ‘It leads to huge suffering for the animals, sometimes for days.’
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The editorial content of this article was written by Pamela Owen for the Mail Online.