That the giraffe is the tallest animal on the Earth, is a well-known fact. Some of you might also be knowing that it is the largest among various ruminating animals on the planet. However, there is a lot more to know about this animal, which is often considered one of the icons of Africa―a distinction it shares with species like, zebras and hippos, which are exclusive to this region.
How Many Types of Giraffes are There?
As of today, only one species of giraffe is recognized, while the different types that we will be talking about, are enlisted as the subspecies of this lone species. The habitat of giraffes spans the Savannah grasslands of Africa, right from Chad in north to South Africa in south. While that is a considerably large area, each of its subspecies is restricted to a particular region within it.
Basically, all this confusion can be attributed to genetic studies which reveal that each of the subspecies recognized today, are actually individual species belonging to the family Giraffidae. Now, the family Giraffidae is the family of even-toed ungulates, which is made up of the giraffe and its closest relative, okapi.
Contrary to the belief that only one species of giraffe exists, some studies have revealed that there exist around 8 - 10 species of the animal in Africa. Each of these differ from others on the basis of their color and geographical range. This also implies that the alleged subspecies are reproductively isolated, i.e., they don't interbreed, as there is no overlapping of their geographical range.
One can also see a significant difference in terms of their coat, with each of these giraffes sporting a coat that's unique in color. Experts suggest that this color variation has a crucial role to play when it comes to identification and mating, with giraffes belonging to different subspecies―as they put it―refusing to mate even if they come across each other.
Different Species of Giraffes
At a towering 18 ft, with long neck, angular spots, and long legs, it's easy to picture a giraffe. On the flip side, these generic characteristic traits make all of them look similar and people fail to understand that there are at least 9 different species of giraffes in Africa. Like we said earlier, they are classified into different subspecies on the basis of their coloration, coat patterns, geographical distribution, etc. Given below is the list of different species (or types―as a layman would put it) of giraffes found on the continent on the basis of their geographical range.
- The West African Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta), also referred to as the Niger Giraffe or Nigerian Giraffe, which is found in the Sahel regions of West Africa.
- The Rothschild Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi), also known as the Baringo Giraffe or Ugandan Giraffe, which is found in Kenya and Uganda.
- The Masai Giraffe or Maasai Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi), also referred to as the Kilimanjaro Giraffe, found in Kenya and Tanzania.
- The Somali Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), more often referred to as the Reticulated Giraffe, which is found in Somalia, northern Kenya, and southern Ethiopia.
- The Kordofan Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum), which is found in northern Cameroon, southern Chad, Central African Republic, and possibly western Sudan.
- The Thornicroft Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti), also referred to as the Rhodesian Giraffe, which is restricted to the Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia.
- The South African Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa), which is found in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
- The Angolan Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis angolensis), also referred to as the Smoky Giraffe, which is found in southern Angola, northern Namibia, southwestern Zambia, Botswana, and western Zimbabwe.
- The Nubian Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis camelopardalis), which is found in eastern Sudan and northeastern DR Congo.
But why do we even need to classify them into different species when they are already categorized as subspecies? Basically, the clubbing of all the existing giraffes into one single species blots out the fact that some of these are on the verge of extinction and need immediate protection.
Even though giraffes―with an estimated population of anywhere between 110,000 to 150,000―are categorized as 'Least Concern' species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), some 'subspecies', like the West African Giraffe and Rothschild Giraffe, have already become endangered with only a few hundred individuals left in wild.
If they are classified into full-fledged species, it will be possible to pay attention to each of them and draft necessary conservation plans to ensure that they don't become extinct. It's obvious that the extinction of any of these giraffes will come heavy on the grasslands. After all, the species has a crucial role to play when it comes to smooth functioning of this biome.