In the 1980s, the total number of all giraffe in Africa was estimated at more than 155,000 individuals.

Today, GCF estimates the current Africa-wide giraffe population at approximately 111,000 individuals.

This is a drop by almost 30%, a slightly less bleak picture than previously portrayed in the 2016 IUCN Red List assessment that estimated giraffe at less than 100,000 individuals. However, this updated information is based more on improved data rather than on actual increases in numbers. Unfortunately, in some areas traditionally regarded as prime giraffe habitat, numbers have dropped by 95% in the same period.

Limited conservation research has been undertaken on giraffe throughout Africa. While the IUCN Red List currently recognises one species of giraffe and nine subspecies, new findings by GCF and partners clearly show four species and five subspecies of giraffe. This updated information is currently under further review and will hopefully soon be taken into consideration by the IUCN for future conservation assessments, giving each giraffe their own taxonomical status and mandate for increased conservation.

In 2016 the IUCN completed the first detailed assessment of the conservation status of giraffe, revealing that their numbers are in peril. This was further emphasised when the majority of the IUCN recognised subspecies were assessed in 2018 – some as Critically Endangered. While this update further confirms the real threat to one of Africa’s most charismatic megafauna, it also highlights a rather confusing aspect of giraffe conservation: how many species/subspecies of giraffe are there?

The IUCN currently recognises one species (Giraffa camelopardalis) and nine subspecies of giraffe, which is historically based on outdated assessments of their morphological features and geographic ranges. The subspecies are thus divided: Angolan giraffe (G. c. angolensis), Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum), Masai giraffe (G. c. tippleskirchi), Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), Reticulated giraffe (G. c. reticulata), Rothschild’s giraffe (G. c. rothschildi), South African giraffe (G. c. giraffa), Thornicroft’s giraffe (G. c. thornicrofti), and West African giraffe (G. c. peralta).

However, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), together with its partner Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), has performed the first-ever comprehensive DNA sampling and analysis (genomic, nuclear and mitochondrial) of all major natural populations of giraffe throughout their range in Africa. As a result, an update of the traditional taxonomy now exists. This study revealed that there are four distinct species of giraffe, and five subspecies. The four distinct species are Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi), Northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), Reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) and Southern giraffe (G. giraffa). The Angolan giraffe (G. g. angolensis) and South African giraffe (G. g. giraffa) are the two subspecies of the Southern giraffe. Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum) and West African giraffe (G. c. peralta) are the three subspecies of the Northern giraffe. Rothschild’s giraffe is genetically identical to the Nubian giraffe. As the nominate species, Nubian giraffe takes precedence and Rothschild’s giraffe is thus subsumed into it.

IUCN Red List

As a species: Giraffe / Vulnerable

As a species: 
GiraffeVulnerable
The listed subspecies: 
Angolan giraffeLeast Concern
Kordofan giraffeCritically Endangered
Masai giraffeEndangered
Nubian giraffeCritically Endangered
Reticulated giraffeEndangered
Rothschild’s giraffeNear Threatened
Thornicroft’s giraffeVulnerable
West African giraffeVulnerable

Preliminary data suggests that the Thornicroft’s giraffe is genetically similar to the Masai giraffe. However, additional research is necessary to determine whether Thornicroft’s giraffe are genetically identical to Masai giraffe, or should be considered a separate subspecies of Masai giraffe. In all of GCF’s conservation work and publications, based on this research, we use the updated giraffe taxonomy of the four species, while the IUCN still refers to the traditional concept of one species and nine subspecies.

All four giraffe species and their subspecies live in geographically distinct areas throughout Africa. While some of these species have been reported to hybridise in zoos, there is very little evidence that this occurs readily in the wild.