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4 Types of Giraffes: Species, Facts and Photos

Giraffes are known for their characteristic spots and elongated necks. They live in Africa's endless plains and conservation areas worldwide. This article explores the different types of giraffes and their habitats, behaviors, and diets. Read till the end to understand these towering natives of Africa.

General Information about Giraffes

Giraffes are the tallest land mammals and an iconic symbol of Africa's biodiversity. They have seven vertebrae in their necks and unique patterns on their bodies that are as distinctive as human fingerprints. Moreover, giraffes live in savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands throughout Africa.

Unfortunately, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies giraffes as vulnerable2, citing a 36-40% population decrease over 30 years (1985-2015), primarily due to declines in habitat quality and capacity. 

Despite ongoing conservation efforts and variable population trends, the giraffe population overall continues to face significant challenges, with factors conducive to their recovery potentially irreversible. Organizations like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and the Climate Research Centre work hard to protect major giraffe populations.

Read more: Giraffe Facts.

Giraffe Classification

Giraffes are hoofed mammals from Africa under the order Artiodactyla, which also comprises deers, camels, and hippopotamuses.

The latest genetic research has revealed four giraffe species1: the Northern Giraffe, the Southern Giraffe, the Masai Giraffe sensu lato, and the Reticulated Giraffe. The IUCN, however, recognizes only one species, Giraffa camelopardalis, and nine subspecies.

The following sections discuss distinguishing characteristics, habitats, and adaptations of the four giraffe species and the corresponding subspecies.

4 Types of Giraffe Species And Subspecies

1. Northern Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)

Northern Giraffe
Photo by Thomas Fuhrmann on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Northern Giraffe is one of the four distinct species inhabiting the Sahel regions of West and Central Africa. Males can reach up to 18 feet, and females grow up to 14 feet. They have a distinctive coat with liver-colored spots outlined by a network of white lines. 

These giraffes are herbivorous and primarily feed on acacia tree foliage. They are also social animals that form groups, often consisting of males or females.

Despite their resilience and adaptability, the Northern Giraffe faces habitat loss, civil unrest, and ecological changes. Their lifespan in the wild is up to 25 years. To ensure their survival, we must support conservation efforts to protect their habitat and prevent further threats to their population. 

Kordofan Giraffe (G. camelopardalis antiquorum)

Kordofan Giraffe
Photo by Fiver, der Hellseher on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Kordofan Giraffe lives in Central Africa, Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They thrive in savannahs, grasslands, and open woodlands, particularly where Acacia trees grow. 

They have a smaller build than other giraffe species; males can reach a height of 16 feet, and females can reach 14 feet. Their coat is pale with irregular blotchy spots. 

Male Kordofan Giraffes weigh between 2,400 and 3,000 pounds, while females weigh between 1,600 and 2,600 pounds. 

Their diet mainly consists of Acacia leaves, which they can easily pull down from tall trees using their long, flexible tongues. Moreover, their stomachs have four chambers that break down tough plant materials, giving them access to more food sources than other herbivores.

Nubian Giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis)

Nubian Giraffe
Photo by Doug Belshaw on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Nubian Giraffe, or Rothschild's Giraffe, lives in East Africa. Its gait, long neck, and tongue help it access leaves out of reach for other herbivores. The giraffes feature large chestnut to orange spots that cover their entire bodies, separated by bright white lines. 

They prefer meals from Acacia trees and can run as fast as 35 miles per hour. Moreover, the Nubian Giraffe often forms groups of up to 15; males stand at 19 feet, while females are around 16 feet.

West African Giraffe (G. c. peralta)

West African Giraffe
Photo by Clémence Delmas on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The West African Giraffe lives in the heart of Niger near the city of Niamey. Their spots are unique, lighter, and more irregular than their cousins. They can go days without water, sourcing most of their hydration from the plants they consume. 

The West African giraffe's diet consists of the highest acacia leaves, buds, and twigs untouched by other herbivores. They can also run up to 35 mph when the situation demands it.

The West African giraffe's social structure involves females and young ones clustering together in loose, fluid herds, with adult males keeping to themselves.

However, the West African giraffe is the most endangered subspecies of giraffe; fewer than 600 remain in the wild. Their survival is crucial for maintaining the health and balance of the planet, as they are exclusive to the Sahel and savannah.

2. Masai Giraffe sensu lato (Giraffa tippelskirchi)

Masai Giraffe sensu lato
Photo by Mflmkuku on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Masai Giraffe lives in East Africa, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania. As the tallest member of the giraffe family and the tallest land animal on Earth, they can reach an impressive height of up to 19 feet for males and 16 feet for females. 

Their unique coat has a patchwork pattern of jagged-edged, vine leaf-shaped spots that help camouflage them in the wild and regulate their body temperature. 

Moreover, the Masai Giraffe has a long neck and tongue ideally suited for reaching tender leaves, and it can feed on over a hundred plant species.

They prefer fluid, temporary associations over fixed herds and use body language and infrasound to communicate with each other. However, scientists are still studying the purpose and meaning of their communication.

Masai Giraffe sensu stricto (G. tippelskirchi tippelskirchi)

The Masai Giraffe sensu stricto has vine-leaf-shaped spots. It is often found in the plains of the Masai Mara and Amboseli National Parks. Its coat is cream-colored fur with jagged-edged spots ranging from dark brown to black.

In addition to their physical appearance, Masai giraffes have interesting social dynamics. Adult males tend to be solitary, while females and young giraffes form loose herds of up to 20 individuals.

Luangwa or Thornicroft's Giraffe (G. t. thornicrofti)

Luangwa or Thornicroft's Giraffe
Photo by Hans Hillewaert on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Thornicroft's Giraffe inhabits Zambia's South Luangwa Valley. Its unique leafy patches on its coat make it a symbol of the valley. 

Moreover, its name honors Harry Scott Thornicroft, a former Commissioner of North-Western Rhodesia (now divided into Zimbabwe and Zambia). 

They feed on acacia leaves and shoots, which they can reach with their long necks and nimble tongues. The Luangwa Giraffe's social dynamics are fluid, with groups constantly shifting and changing. 

They navigate the terrain with a unique walk known as pacing, which helps them maintain stability on uneven ground. In the wild, the Luangwa Giraffe has a life expectancy of about 25 years.

3. Southern Giraffe (Giraffa giraffa)

Southern Giraffe
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Southern Giraffe is another of the four species that inhabits the arid savannas of Namibia and the lush grasslands of South Africa. It sports a distinct coat pattern, which features irregular, star-like patches on a lighter, tan background, allowing for effective camouflage in their environment. 

Moreover, they have a unique feeding behavior known as the "giraffe spread," which enables them to graze on leaves, shoots, and fruits. Acacia trees are a staple in their diet.

Southern Giraffes form open, fluid herds without a defined leader and do not engage in territorial disputes or power struggles. This relaxed social structure is likely due to the abundant resources available in their habitat.

Angolan Giraffe (G. giraffa angolensis)

Angolan Giraffe
Photo by Hans Hillewaert on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Angolan Giraffe, also known as the Namibian Giraffe, is a subspecies of Southern Giraffe found in Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana. Large, uneven, light-colored patches are scattered across their bodies, leaving their lower legs as pristine white canvases. 

Moreover, their spot pattern is not as sharply defined as their cousins, and each giraffe's spot pattern is as unique as a human's fingerprint. 

The Angolan Giraffe towers over the other subspecies, reaching up to 18 feet tall. The males have thicker horns and a noticeable forehead bump, which play a crucial role during 'necking,' a test of strength where males battle for dominance.

Moreover, they prefer the leaves of Acacia, Combretum, and Terminalia trees. Fruits, seeds, and flowers supplement their diet. 

South African Giraffe (G. g. giraffa)

South African Giraffe
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The South African Giraffe inhabits the open savannas and woodlands of Southern Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Its unique coat features large, irregular, star-shaped patches that are lighter in hue than other giraffe species. 

The South African Giraffe plays a crucial role in its ecosystem, promoting new tree growth as it feeds and creating opportunities for other herbivores. Despite its height, this giraffe is agile and can run up to 35 mph.

The South African Giraffe is famous in zoos worldwide due to its elongated neck and legs, which allow it to reach the top branches of trees, such as acacia, mimosa, and wild apricots.

4. Reticulated Giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)

Reticulated Giraffe
Photo by Snakes3yes on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Reticulated Giraffe has a stunning coat with white lines outlining liver-colored spots, which provides camouflage against predators in its natural habitats. It lives in the savannahs, grasslands, and open woodlands of Northeastern Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and Somalia. 

Moreover, their diet includes leaves, shoots, and fruits from over a hundred plant species, with a particular fondness for Acacia leaves. 

They form open herds without a hierarchical structure. Males display dominance through "necking," where they swing their necks to head-butt their rivals.

1

Coimbra, R. T. F., Winter, S., Kumar, V., Koepfli, K., Gooley, R. M., Dobrynin, P., Fennessy, J., & Janke, A. (2021). Whole-genome analysis of giraffe supports four distinct species. Current Biology, 31(13), 2929-2938.e5.

2

Muller, Z., Bercovitch, F., Brand, R., Brown, D., Brown, M., Bolger, D., Carter, K., Deacon, F., Doherty, J.B., Fennessy, J., Fennessy, S., Hussein, A.A., Lee, D., Marais, A., Strauss, M., Tutchings, A. & Wube, T. (2018). Giraffa camelopardalis (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T9194A136266699. 

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by MARIOLA GROBELSKA on Unsplash.
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