The Who Is Who Of Giraffe – Unravelling Giraffe Genetics

It was widely recognised that there was only one species of giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis, and nine subspecies. However, for almost two decades now, GCF has spearheaded a long-term effort to unravel the mystery of giraffe genetics and their taxonomy.

GCF and its partners have gathered DNA samples and data from almost every major giraffe population throughout Africa. In close collaboration with experts, our genetics partner, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) in Germany, has provided immense support by analysing all samples and interpreting the results in the context of geography, phylogeography and conservation.

GCF and its partners have now shown that there are in fact four distinct species of giraffe, and six subspecies (possibly more). These ground-breaking findings will enhance giraffe research, conservation and management.

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

With about 1,000 giraffe tissue samples collected so far from across their range, field sampling is largely complete in most parts of Africa. However, a few populations still need additional sampling to ensure that the data is even more robust. A comprehensive sampling effort is currently under way in Tanzania to fill some data gaps and data is still scarce from some less easily accessible places, such as Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Please get in touch, should you want to provide financial support or are in the position to help with collecting or providing additional samples from any of these places.

This programme is spearheaded by GCF in collaboration with: