The Giraffe Conservation Foundation has put together a beautiful poster that is jam-packed with fascinating facts about all nine of Africa’s giraffe subspecies. What’s that? You didn’t know there were nine different kinds of giraffes? There are indeed!
Visibly distinguished by their coloring and the shape of their “spots” (remember, the giraffe’s Latin name is derived from the phrase “camel leopard”), the nine subspecies are spread all across Africa. We can give you a sneak peak below, but you can download the full PDF on our site!
1) West African Giraffe (G. c. peralta)
Once ranging between Nigeria and Senegal, only 50 of these giraffes were left in West Africa by the late 1990s. Now formally protected by the Niger government, the subspecies has grown to a promising 400 individuals. Noticeably light in appearance, its rectangular and tan blotches are separated by thick, cream-colored lines.
2) Nubian Giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis)
The Nubian giraffe was the first giraffe species ever recorded and can be found in western Ethiopia and South Sudan, though their numbers are dwindling. The subspecies has large, irregular chestnut-brown blotches on a beigish background. Increased poaching throughout its range may have reduced its population well below 650 individuals.
3) Kordofan Giraffe (G. c. antiquorum)
Found in southern Chad, Central African Republican, northern Cameroon, northern Democratic Republic of Congo and likely South Sudan, this giraffe’s population is estimated to have fallen below 2,000. Its spots are pale and irregular and has no marking below its hocks.
4) South African Giraffe (G. c. giraffa)
Also known as the Cape giraffe, it ranges across South African, southern Botswana and southern Zimbabwe (with a repopulation effort underway in Mozambique). Its unique patterning almost resembles brownish stars and the background is more tan than white.
5) Reticulated Giraffe (G. c. reticulata)
Sometimes called the “netted” or Somali giraffe, this subspecies is found mainly in northeastern Kenya. Small populations remain in southern Somalia and possibly southern Ethiopia. Its brown-orange patches are set against a network of thick and striking white lines.
6) Angolan Giraffe (G. c. angolensis)
Sometimes known as the smoky giraffe, this subspecies is actually extinct in Angola (as far as we know). Compared to other giraffes, the Angolan is light in color and is covered head-to-hoof in large, uneven and notched spots.
7) Thornicroft’s Giraffe (G. c. thornicrofti)
The Thornicroft’s, or Rhodesian, giraffe is found only in an isolated section of northeastern Zambia in the South Luangwa Valley. Their patterning continues down the length of their legs and takes the form of large, dark, ragged blotches on a cream background.
8) Masai Giraffe (G. c. tippelskirchi)
Also known as the Kilimanjaro giraffe, this subspecies is perhaps the most easily identifiable due to its distinctive patterning. The giraffe itself is noticeably darker than other subspecies and is covered in jagged blotches that resemble vine leafs.
9) Rothschild’s Giraffe (G. c. rothschildi)
Also known as the Baringo or Ugandan giraffe, it can be found in northern Uganda and west-central Kenya. This subspecies has large, dark rectangular blotches set irregularly against a cream background.
A growing body of evidence suggests that some of these subspecies may not in fact be different from others, whereas others might be distinct species in their own right! Thus there might be fewer than nine subspecies and/or even a few separate species.
For over a decade now, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) has spearheaded a long-term effort to unravel the mystery of giraffe genetics. Want to learn more? Download the full poster from GCF!