A rethink about giraffes

If you thought that all giraffes were created equal, think again. Yes, based on their looks they all seem pretty much the same, but their genes tell a totally different story. The ones you’ll see in the Kruger National Park or elsewhere in South Africa are genetically very different from the ones in Ethiopia and South Sudan, for instance. In fact, there are four genetically quite distinct giraffe species to be found around Africa, according to an article in the journal Current Biology.

Julian Fennessy of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Namibia is the lead author.

Researchers are proposing four distinct giraffe species. Source: Fennessy J. et al (2016)

Researchers are proposing four distinct giraffe species. Source: Fennessy J. et al (2016)

Those four species are:

  • The southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa)
  • The Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)
  • the reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)
  • the northern giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), which includes the Nubian giraffe ( c. camelopardalis) as a distinct subspecies.

According to Fennessy, the elusive Nubian giraffe from Ethiopia and the South Sudan region was the first described some 300 years ago, and is now shown to be part of the northern giraffe.

If the original research article is more your thing, read it here. It not, here’s a comprehensive analysis of the research article:

Genetic analysis uncovers 4 species of giraffe, not just 1

Up until now, scientists had only recognized a single species of giraffe made up of several subspecies. But, according to the most inclusive genetic analysis of giraffe relationships to date, giraffes actually aren’t one species, but four. The unexpected findings reported in Current Biology on Sept.

Reference: Fennessy, J. et al (2016). Multi-locus Analyses Reveal Four Giraffe Species Instead of OneCurrent Biology

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engela Duvenage

Co-founder of SciBraai.co.za. Day job: Science writer and science communicator who loves turning research papers into news stories. And writing about cookies and writers if I get the chance. Claim to fame: mother of two daughters. Background: MPhil (Journalism, specialising in science journalism) and HonsBA (Psychology). Disclaimer: Before starting a freelancing career I worked for Stellenbosch University, so please excuse my inability not to write about some of its people and projects. Ditto for other clients I have worked for.

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