Northern giraffe

Most endangered giraffe species is witnessing silent extinction

Thomas Fuhrmann

Distinguished by its unique coat pattern of irregular polygonal patches in varying shades of chestnut, orange, or chocolate, it stands as a symbol of Africa’s majestic wildlife. Among its defining features, the bull of this species boasts an additional third ossicone, a horn-like structure that can measure up to 12 cm (5 in) in height. Notably, the legs below the knee lack spots and appear practically white, adding to the distinctive appearance of these magnificent creatures.

Spanning across northern sub-Saharan Africa, the Northern giraffe encompasses three genetically recognized subspecies: the West African giraffe (G. c. peralta), the Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), and the Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum). Each subspecies exhibits unique adaptations and behaviors tailored to their respective habitats and ecological niches.

Despite their remarkable adaptability, Northern giraffes face numerous threats to their survival, including trophy hunting, illegal poaching, habitat loss, and fragmentation. These factors have led to local extinctions in certain areas, contributing to the dwindling numbers of this endangered giraffe species. With the smallest known wild population estimates today, Northern giraffes are recognized as one of the most endangered giraffe species globally, highlighting the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect their dwindling populations.

Conservation initiatives aimed at safeguarding Northern giraffes focus on habitat preservation, anti-poaching measures, and community engagement to promote coexistence between humans and wildlife. Protected areas and wildlife reserves serve as vital sanctuaries for these iconic megafauna, providing refuge and essential habitat resources for their survival.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2016
Botswana
2016
Burkina Faso
Official estimate
EX
216
Extinct locally, Vagrant
Cameroon
2016
Central Af. Rep.
2016
Chad
2016
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2016
Eritrea
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 2011
Eswatini
2016
Introduced
Ethiopia
2016
Guinea
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1999
Kenya
2016
Malawi
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally, Vagrant
Mali
2016
Possibly Extinct
Mauritania
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Mozambique
2016
Namibia
2016
Niger
2016
Nigeria
Official estimate
EX
Extinct 1998
Rwanda
2016
Introduced
Senegal
Official estimate
EX
Extinct locally
Somalia
2016
South Africa
2016
South Sudan
2016
Tanzania
2016
Uganda
2016
Zambia
2016
Zimbabwe
2016

Recent updates

Oct 2021:  According to a study published in the journal PeerJ, only about 5,000 Northern giraffes are left in the wild, which is much lower than previous estimates.

Did you know?

  • Patches cover more of their faces than their southern relatives.
  • Extensive hunting and exploitation resulted in only 49 individuals (by 1996) left in the wild of the subspecies West African giraffe. Still, conservation efforts resulted in a successful population recovery with 600+ individuals in 2018.
  • A sharp population decline of >80% over just thirty years for the subspecies Kordofan giraffe, with only around 1500 individuals, continues to decline.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, their numbers were estimated at more than 13,704.
  • Ossicones are the ossified cartilage in giraffes. These protuberances on their head look like horns.
  • There are less than 6,000 Northern giraffes in the wild (this number is equivalent to the number of human births on Earth every hour), which is an alarmingly small population for this iconic megafauna.
  • They might be seen chewing bark and sometimes licking dried corpses during foraging.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No

Northern giraffe on banknotes

Zimbabwe 5 Dollars (2016)