How Are Giraffes Doing Nowadays?

Three Masai giraffe at Masai Mara National Park (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

17 January 2024

Giraffes are way cool. They’re the tallest mammal on earth, they hardly sleep at all (only 10-120 minutes per day), they need less water than a camel, and they have big hearts … literally. Their population is also declining. In December 2016 they were placed on IUCN’s Red List of Vulnerable species.

Have their numbers improved in the past seven years? How are giraffes doing nowadays?

Today, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation estimates the current Africa-wide giraffe population at approximately 117,000 individuals.

[Since the 1980s] this is a drop by almost 30%, a slightly less bleak picture than previously portrayed in the 2016 IUCN Red List assessment that estimated giraffe at less than 100,000 individuals. However, this updated information is based more on improved data rather than on actual increases in numbers. Unfortunately, in some areas traditionally regarded as prime giraffe habitat, numbers have dropped by 95% in the same period [since the 1980s].

Giraffe Conservation Foundation

The giraffe population assessment is complicated by their DNA which now reveals they could be split from one species (Giraffa camelopardalis) into four distinct species and seven subspecies, some of which are in good shape while others are not.

A 2007 analysis suggested six species on the map below. To get the latest four species (2021), lump [blue+green] and [pink+red]. Yellow and orange are distinct species.

2007 genetic subdivision in the giraffe based on mitochondrial DNA sequences (from Wikimedia Commons)

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation describes the proposed four species:

  • Southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa) includes Angolan. (Seen on our tour in southern Africa)
    • southeastern Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa and is the animal we imagine when we see the word “giraffe.”
    • Population: 49,850
    • Needs a reassessment, might be Least Concern
  • Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi)
    • Kenya, Tanzania and a small region of Zambia. Darker than the other species.
    • Population: 45,400
    • Endangered but improving
  • Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)
    • Kenya and southern edge of Somalia. Its patches touch each other in a network pattern.
    • Population: 15,950
    • Endangered but improving
  • Northern giraffe (Giraffa Camelopardalis) includes Rothschild’s and Western.
    • scattered in Western, Central and East Africa
    • Population: 5,900
    • Rothschild’s subspecies (Critically Endangered)
    • Western subspecies (Vulnerable)

So how are giraffes doing nowadays? It’s complicated!

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