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Giraffes in the world is not a single species, but four

Recent study identified once thought one species of giraffe as four different speceis

Carlous Linnaeus described the first Giraffe (Giraffa Camelopardalis) in his ‘Systema Naturae’ in 1758 using Nubian Giraffe. Linnaeus never had seen a live giraffe, but described it based on 200-year-old reports. Nine giraffe sub species were described over time, between 1758 and 1899. These giraffe groups were distributed in 12 African countries. Sub species were described based on the differences in ossicones (giraffe horns) and coat patterns. But these distinctions were really unreliable.

Now, a study1 published in Current Biology says giraffes consist of four genetically distinct groups. As these groups don’t interbreed, these can we considered as 4 different species.

Over five years, researchers collected and analysed Nuclear DNA from 105 individuals and Mitochondrial DNA from 190 individuals. The results clearly showed that what was long thought to be one giraffe species is actually four species. Four species identified are the southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) and Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi). All the nine sub species were identified into the newly recognised four species. The Nubian Giraffe, first described by Linnaeus is now considered as Northern Giraffe. Refer table 1.

Graphical representation showing four different species of giraffes. (Courtesy: Fennessy et. al)
Graphical representation showing four different species of giraffes. (Courtesy: Fennessy et. al)

The current study is very important for conservation efforts of giraffes. Less than 100,000 giraffes are seen in the wild. As these four different species won’t interbreed, population numbers of each species becomes important. This new finding can be utilised by policy makers for effective conservation of the species.

Old Sub speciesCommon NameDistributionNew Speceis name
G. c. peralta (Thomas, 1898)West African giraffeNigerG.camelopardalis (Northern Giraffe)
G. c. antiquorum (Jardine, 1835)Kordofan giraffeCentral and Eastern AfricaG.camelopardalis (Northern Giraffe)
G. c. camelopardalis (Linnaeus, 1758)Nubian giraffeSouth Sudan, EthiopiaG.camelopardalis (Northern Giraffe)
G. c. reticulata (de Winton, 1899)Reticulated giraffeKenya, Ethiopia, SomaliaG.reticulata (Reticulated Giraffe)
G. c. rothschildi (Lydekker, 1903)Rothschild’s giraffeUganda, KenyaG.tippelskirchi (Masai Giraffe)
G. c. tippelskirchi (Matschie, 1898)Masai giraffeKenya, TanzaniaG.tippelskirchi (Masai Giraffe)
G. c. thornicrofti (Lydekker, 1911)Thornicroft’s giraffeZambiaG.camelopardalis (Northern Giraffe)
G. c. angolensis (Lydekker, 1903)Angolan giraffeBotswana, NamibiaG.giraffa (Southern Giraffe)
G. c. giraffa (von Schreber, 1784)South African giraffeBotswana, South Africa, Zambia, ZimbabweG.giraffa (Southern Giraffe)

Table 1: Table showing old sub species names and new species names of Giraffes with distribution

Cite this article: Giraffes in the world is not a single species, but four, in Amazing Zoology, September 9, 2016, Retrieved on April 14, 2024.


Fennessy J, Bidon T, Reuss F, et al. Multi-locus Analyses Reveal Four Giraffe Species Instead of One. Current Biology. 2016;26(18):2543-2549. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.036

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Written by Josin Tharian

Assistant Professor of Zoology by profession.


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