When you look at a giraffe, do you ask yourself what species of giraffe your looking at? Well, you should because they are not all the same. In fact, there are 4 distinct species of giraffe. Equate it to different species of bear. There are polar bears and grizzly bears...you get the picture. So what are the 4 species and what makes them so different? And why is this such an important discovery to the conservation efforts to save the giraffe from the silent extinction it is currently experiencing? Read on to find out.
The four species include:
- southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa),
- Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi),
- reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata)
- northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), which includes the Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis) as a distinct but related subspecies.
Each of these species of giraffes live in distinct areas of Africa and there is no evidence of cross-breeding among the species in the wild. In zoos, however, cross-breeding between species of giraffes does occur.
So why have the giraffes evolved into 4 distinct species (and some sub-species)? It all has to do with the adaptations they have made to survive in each of their particular habitats along with what they have available to them to eat for survival..
This is important for conservation efforts that involve relocation efforts since relocating one species of giraffe to a new location may not be appropriate for that species to thrive. This is why taking the giraffe's species into account when devising a conservation strategy is so very important to the long term well being and positive outcome of those conservation efforts.
Neglected by science
Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester explained that the "four groups of giraffes had "been separated for 1-2 million years, with no evidence of genes being exchanged between them".
Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, added that "conservation programmes focused on specific species - understanding an animal's life, behaviour and habitat, to inform how it can be protected in the wild.
In the last 15 years, the population of giraffes has declined by 40% - there are now an estimated 80,000 individuals in the wild. But, as a single species, they are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as of Least Concern. This is due to the fact that the giraffes are being looked at as one species as opposed to 4 distinct and separate species. If the species were assessed individually, their varying degrees of emergent endangerment would become evident. This is something that giraffe conservationists are trying to establish with the IUCN so a more accurate assessment of their endangerment classification may be made and necessary eradicating measures to protect against further decline enacted.
As you can see, conservation efforts are very complex and continued research is essential if we are to save this gentle giant, we collectively know of as the giraffe. Please consider donating today to support giraffe conservation, research, and education so we can put a stop to the silent extinction.