giraffe-distribution-map_eng2Giraffe Species

Recent research by GCF and partners has shown that there are four distinct species of giraffe in Africa. Two of these species have two and three subspecies respectively. All species and subspecies live in geographically distinct areas across Africa and while some of the species/subspecies have been reported to cross-bread in zoos, there is little to no evidence that this occurring in the wild.

These recent findings are based on a long-term effort, spearheaded by GCF in collaboration with BiK-F Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt, Germany and partners, to unravel the mystery of giraffe genetics. GCF and partners collected almost 200 DNA samples from most major giraffe populations across Africa. These new finding will inform the future of giraffe conservation throughout Africa.

Masai giraffe – Giraffa tippelskirchi

Masai giraffe range across central and southern Kenya and throughout Tanzania. There is a also geographically isolated population in the South Luangwa Valley in Zambia that was previously assumed to be Thornicroft’s giraffe but are genetically identical to the Masai giraffe. Extralimital populations have been translocated into Rwanda. Historically, this is the most populous of the subspecies, now numbering an estimated 32,500 in the wild. However, recent reports of poaching would suggest that their population is decreasing.

The Masai giraffe is often noticeably darker than other subspecies. Its blotches are large, dark brown and distinctively vine leaf-shaped with jagged edges, and separated by irregular, creamy brown lines.

Reticulated giraffe – Giraffa reticulata

reticulated giraffeAlthough sometimes also called netted or Somali giraffe, this species is more commonly known as the reticulated giraffe. It is now found predominantly in central, north and north-eastern Kenya, with small populations and range persisting in southern Somalia and southern Ethiopia. It has been estimated that about 8,700 individuals remain in the wild – down from an approximate 31,000 as recently as 1998.

It is easy to see why this species is called the reticulated giraffe, with its brown-orange patches clearly defined by a network of thick and striking white lines.

Southern giraffe – Giraffa giraffa

The southern giraffe has two subspecies:

Angolan giraffe –  G. g. angolensis

Angolan giraffeDespite their name, Angolan giraffe were extinct in Angola until recent private translocations. Their range includes most parts of Namibia and central Botswana, with ongoing research determining how different they are from South African giraffe are in the region. Extralimital populations (those outside their natural range) have been translocated into Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This new taxonomy helps to assess the true size of the natural population, which is currently estimated at 13,050 in the wild.

The Angolan giraffe’s pattern extends all the way down the legs and is made up of large, uneven and notched spots on a background that ranges from white/cream to tan-coloured.

South African giraffe – G. g. giraffa

South African giraffeThe South African (or Cape) giraffe ranges across South Africa, Botswana, northeastern Namibia, southwestern Zambia and Zimbabwe, and there are re-introduction efforts underway into Mozambique. Previous reintroductions of this subspecies and of Angolan giraffe into their known range are likely to have resulted in hybrid populations in those areas. There have also been extralimital introductions of South African giraffe across South Africa, Angola, Senegal and Zambia. There are likely more than 39,000 South African giraffe, and as such the most populous subspecies.

The South African giraffe’s pattern extends all the way down the legs and is made up of large, uneven and notched spots on a background that is more tan-coloured than cream or white.

Northern giraffe – Giraffa camelopardalis

The northern giraffe has three subspecies:

Kordofan giraffe – G. c. antiquorum

Kordofan giraffeThe Kordofan giraffe’s range includes some of Africa’s more hostile areas: southern Chad, Central African Republic, northern Cameroon, northern Democratic Republic of Congo and western South Sudan. It is estimated that fewer than 2,000 individuals survive in these war-ravaged countries. Most of these populations were formerly assumed to be G. c. peralta, but research has proved this to be incorrect.

The Kordofan giraffe’s spots are pale, large and rectangular. It has no markings below the hocks.

Nubian giraffe – G. c. camelopardalis

Nubian giraffeThe Nubian giraffe is the nominate subspecies, meaning its Latin subspecific name is the same as that of the entire species, because it was the first specimen recorded. Recent research has shown that the two subspecies previously known as Nubian and Rothschild’s giraffe are actually genetically identical. As the nominate subspecies, Rothschild’s giraffe have been subsumed into Nubian giraffe. The current estimate of Nubian giraffe is 2,645 individuals, ranging across eastern South Sudan, western Ethiopia, northern Uganda and west-central Kenya. Large herds have been reported in South Sudan, but this information is extremely difficult to confirm and their numbers might be much lower due to ongoing poaching in the region. Interestingly, the majority of Rothschild’s giraffe in Kenya are outside their natural range (extralimital), in contrast to those in Uganda.

In 2010 Rothschild’s giraffe (now subsumed into Nubian giraffe) were classified as Endangered and of high conservation importance on the IUCN Red List. In 2015 and 2016, Nubian giraffe were re-introduced into Uganda’s Lake Mburo National Park and the southern bank of the Nile River in Murchison Falls National Park respectively after an absence of 100 years or more.

Nubian giraffe have large, rectangular blotches set irregularly against a cream background. The lower legs are noticeably white and not patterned.

West African giraffe –  G. c. peralta

West African giraffeAt the beginning of the 20th century West African (or Nigerian) giraffe were widely distributed from Nigeria to Senegal, but by the late 1990s only 49 individuals remained in the whole of West Africa. These few survivors are now formally protected by the Niger government and their number has risen to approximately 550 individuals (and counting). The giraffe inhabit an isolated pocket east of the capital Niamey, sharing their living space with local villagers. No other large wild mammals remain in this region. West African giraffe were classified as Endangered and of high conservation importance on the IUCN Red List in 2008.

The West African giraffe is noticeably light in appearance, which rectangular tan blotches separated by thick, cream-coloured lines, often with no patterning on their lower legs.

All species and subspecies in numbers:

Southern giraffe Giraffa giraffa

52,050

    Angolan giraffe G. g. angolensis

13,050

    South African giraffe G. g. giraffa

39,000

Northern giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis

5,195

    Nubian giraffe G. c. camelopardalis

2,645

    Kordofan giraffe G. c. antiquorum

2,000

    West African giraffe G. c. peralta

550

Reticulated giraffe Giraffa reticulata

8,700

Masai giraffe Giraffa tippelskirchi

32,500