Giraffes Galore

Masai Giraffes, Tarangire NP, Tanzania

We are often introduced to giraffes as if there is only one kind. Technically, there is only one species, Giraffa camelopardalis, but there are nine different subspecies. Let’s take a look at a few.

 

Masai Giraffes, Serengeti, Tanzania

 

Male Giraffe, Zambia

 

The tallest terrestrial animal in the world, giraffes live only in Africa. Depending on where in Africa you are, their coat patterns differ. See maps and diagram at end.

 

This subspecies, in the two photos below, is known as the reticulated giraffe (G. c. reticulata). They get my vote for the most elegant-looking subspecies. It is named for its net-like, or reticulated, coat pattern with reddish-brown patches separated by white lines.

 

Reticulated Giraffe, Kenya

 

Reticulated Giraffes at Acacia tree, Kenya

 

I am always thrilled on safari just to see a giraffe. It was long after my first giraffe sighting that I started to notice they were different from one another, depending on where we were.

 

Compared to the reticulated giraffes we saw in Kenya, above, look how different this pattern is on the South African giraffe (G. c. giraffa), below. The spots are more jagged. This individual has several oxpecker birds on its back, eating the ticks.

 

South African Giraffe with oxpeckers, Botswana

 

Taxonomist hypotheses and genetic studies abound on which giraffe subspecies lives where, it has to do with mitochondrial DNA.

 

Thornicroft giraffes (G. c. thornicrofti), in the next three photos, have spots that are more notched. They are a race found in the Luangwa Valley in Zambia.

 

Three Thornicroft Giraffes, Zambia. Oxpeckers mid-flight.

 

Thornicroft Giraffe, Zambia

 

We were thrilled to come upon this mother and her two nursing calves, especially since there are less than 600 individuals left of this subspecies on the planet.

 

Thornicroft giraffes, mother nusing two calves, Zambia

 

When you come upon a giraffe they have always, 100% of the time, seen you before you see them. With their height comes perspective, an advantage in the African veldt where giraffes have many predators.

 

Here are two photos below of the South African Giraffe subspecies, G. c. giraffa. This first photo gives you a good idea of the giraffe’s height. They stand 14-18 feet (4-5.5 m) tall.

South African Giraffe and Zebra, Zambia

 

South African Giraffe, Botswana

 

Wikipedia Giraffe.

 

In addition to the subspecies coat variations, each individual has a unique pattern. Calves inherit some spot pattern traits from their mothers. There are many theories on the evolutionary purpose of the spots, including camouflage and thermoregulation.

 

Coloring is also variable.

 

We saw this pair of Masai Giraffes, G. c. tippelskirchi, in the Serengeti in Tanzania. They have jagged star-like blotches that extend all the way down to the hooves. The male, on the left, is darker due to age.

Masai Giraffes, male on left, female on right, Serengeti, Tanzania

 

Often one sees giraffes browsing, and it is usually on an acacia tree. They have a tough tongue that can master the acacia’s long, sharp thorns.

 

This tower of giraffes, however, are clustered under a mighty baobab tree, with no possibility of reaching the canopy.

Giraffes and Baobab Tree, Tarangire NP, Tanzania

 

There are so many remarkable aspects to the giraffe, their unique coats are only the beginning. And their perspective, hmmm, what a gift.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.
All photos in the wild by Athena Alexander.

Acacia Tree, Botswana

 

Giraffe Subspecies map by Creative Commons Attribution. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Giraffa camelopardalis distribution2.png

Giraffe Distribution Map by Bobisbob. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

78 thoughts on “Giraffes Galore

  1. This is so interesting. I’d assumed that a giraffe is a giraffe, and that coat variations were simply — well, variations. I had no idea there are sub-species. The photos are wonderful, and who doesn’t love a baby giraffe? I will confess that my favorite feature of giraffes may be a bit odd. I love their eyelashes.

    • I’m so very pleased to have shared this giraffe info and Athena’s photos with you, Linda. And I agree, a baby giraffe and the mammal’s eyelashes too, are sweet fun to see. Thanks so much for your visit, as always, much appreciated.

  2. Once again I learn so much from your blog. I knew that zebras all have different stripe patterns but had no idea at all about Giraffes. Thank you and thanks to Athena for the wonderful photographs.

    I am enjoying lock down. My routine hasn’t changed much at all…given that I have worked from. home/studio for the past nearly fifty years….but the quietness is heavenly. I have lots of trees surrounding where I live and they are filled with birds. Hope this period is treating you both well and that the creative juices are flowing.
    Stay well. Janet:)

    • It was fun to share the giraffe info, and fun to do the post as well–I’m glad you liked it, Janet. Happy to hear you’re using this lock-down time to your advantage; glad you are safe and well. How very wonderful that you have trees and birds surrounding you. I am grateful for your visit, and so very glad to know you are staying well, dear friend.

  3. Didn’t know there were nine subspecies of giraffes. That’s quite a few kinds of giraffes and thank you for introducing them to us. I like that their spots could be due to their nature to camouflage – that’s quite similar to other animals such as cheetahs. Really appreciate the giraffe species map and spots image at the end. Looked like a lovely giraffe-spotting trip πŸ™‚

    • It was great fun to gather up the giraffe photos from our safaris and share the subspecies here, Mabel. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I am glad you liked the maps and graphics, too, I was happy to have found them in my research. Thanks so much, Mabel, always great to “see” you.

    • I agree, Timothy, giraffes are such interesting creatures. How fun that the giraffes at your zoo are reproducing, means they’re being well taken care of. Thanks so much for your visit, I always appreciate them.

  4. As always, this was such an educational and entertaining post, Jet. I never realized how little I knew about giraffes. I remember when I was in elementary school, my class went to the Washington National Zoo in DC on a fieldtrip. A classmate, who was always disruptive in class started to taunt one of the giraffes. I remember watching the animal eyeballing the boy and suddenly, the giraffe spit on him. Needless to say, the entire class got a big laugh out of it and agreed the little boy deserved it. Thanks for the memories and the great photos!

    • Hearing this story from a successful writer was a true gift today, Jill. I laughed pretty hard. What a great zoo to have the opportunity to visit, too. Thanks for sharing your giraffe story, my friend, and thanks for stopping by.

  5. It’s no stretch at all to say this is a fabulous post! The photograph of giraffes collecting under a Baobab tree is wonderful, what an image. Love the zebra and giraffe comparison picture as well. Ticks on a giraffe must be a right pain in the neck…
    Thanks,Jet!

    • I, too, really like that baobab photo with the giraffes, pc. I had forgotten we even had it, and was so pleased when I found it while composing this post. I like the zebra and giraffe photo too. We came upon a pretty large group of zebras there, mixed in with about six or so giraffes; but I thought this photo had a special flair. Enjoyed your play on words with the ticks, pc, gave me a warm smile. I hope you and Mrs. pc have some sweet moments this weekend and that you’re holding up okay. Looking forward to reading your post of today, always a pure joy, my friend.

  6. Wow, I had know idea about Giraffes they are truly amazing animals. I especially loved the Giraffes and Baobab Tree, Tarangire NP, Tanzania — it made the giraffes look small. You are so fortunate to have travel so extensively.

    • Tarangire NP was my first look at Tanzania, and holds a magical place in my heart. We were there in February and the baobabs were leafing. I am happy we were able to do so much travel, worked hard and saved and planned, and hope to do more when the restrictions are lifted and the virus isn’t raging. Until then, I’m glad I could share these giraffes with you. Many thanks, Bill, a true joy to have your visits every week.

  7. Like most of your followers, I was in the dark about this subject. I thought there was only one kind of giraffe! Imagine being so uninformed! Well, you’ve fixed that. I’m very happy to have learned so much about giraffes today. Just when I thought I knew everything, haha. This is a very interesting and informative post, Jet. I love the different colours and designs of the “spots.” The sample you give at the end of the post is very helpful for that. I’m wondering how you can tell the difference between the male and female, other than the obvious equipment. Is it just a size difference or do they have different markings? What is the story on the “horns”?

    • The horns are a good way to tell the gender difference. The female’s are thin and tufted, while the male’s are thick and bald on top. I’m happy you enjoyed today’s post and learning more about giraffes. I learned a lot just writing it. I really appreciate your weekly visits, Anneli, and your comments, your words, are always appreciated. I chuckled when you said you thought you already knew everything. πŸ™‚ Hope your weekend is good.

    • Thanks for your kind comment, jamaowl. I haven’t found a whole lot of info on the subspecies comparisons, so I’m glad you appreciated the one I did. Many thanks.

  8. So interesting! Thank you, Jet for showing us the differences among them. Great photo collections! I love the capture of the young ones.

    • Thanks Amy, and nice to “see” you, as always. That mother nursing her two calves was a true thrill to come upon, and we’re lucky they stuck around for Athena to photograph. Glad you enjoyed it.

  9. You have done a great job in educating us and expanding our awareness, Jet. As so many others have already said, I was unaware that there are all these different species and never really paid close attention to the patterns on their bodies. Athena’s photos are wonderful and illustrate well the differences that you describe. Wow.

    • I really appreciate your kind and encouraging words, Mike. Giraffes are extraordinary mammals, and while most people are familiarized with them at a young age, we sometimes don’t know a lot of the facts about them. I learned more just writing the post. And I’m happy I could share them with friends like you who appreciate and absorb it. Many thanks.

    • The various patterns are a curious aspect of giraffes, and I’m really glad you enjoyed what I presented today, Jan. And I agree, Mother Nature is indeed amazing. Thank you so much.

    • Here’s an animal you have probably not seen in your garden, Eliza. But these days with strange things happening every hour, you never know. If one shows up in your garden, you’ll now know to look carefully at the spotting pattern. πŸ˜‰ Always a delight, thank you.

  10. Pingback: Giraffes Galore β€” Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

  11. Really enjoyed this post. I knew there were sub species, but never knew much more than that. The photos really brought it into perspective. That pattern would look good on a dress for Lisa the robot girl.

    • Hopefully by now you know how much I adore Lisa the Robot Girl, Craig. And I agree, that pattern, especially the reticulated one, would look fabulous on her. Sassy. Many thanks, my friend, always a delight with you.

  12. These are giants and they know how to defend themselves. I’ve seen them many times but I didn’t know about the differences of their coat patterns. Now I know, thanks to you. Great post, my friend. πŸ™‚

    • Giraffe subspecies coat patterns is not something we see a lot about, so I am happy I could share this with you, HJ. My warmest greetings to you, my friend, and thanks.

    • Thanks so very much, Frank, for your visit and kind words. Athena works especially hard on the safaris, and I am so grateful for these memories that she captures from dawn to dusk day after day on the challenging African savanna. I’m happy to share them with you and grateful for your appreciation.

  13. Wonderful post, Jet. A beautiful tribute to these gentle animals – a thrill to see them on safari. I learned new info and especially liked the graph of the different patterns and locations. Wonderful photos, Athena.

    • I think we’re on a time wave together, Jane. I just visited your fantastic post about architecture around the world, your post popped up on my Reader. Thanks so much for your visit here, and kind words and thoughtfulness.

  14. I had no idea there are nine subspecies of giraffe. According to the map you included, they’re in mostly isolated pockets now, but I wonder how much interbreeding took place when their ranges were broader and overlapped.

    • Giraffes almost never interbreed. The giraffe populations are diminishing, unfortunately. There are only 111,000 individuals left on the planet, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Thanks for stopping by, Steve.

    • What a pleasure it is to share information with you, Donna, on the giraffe. I’d forgotten that phrase for them, “gentle giant,” and am so glad you reminded me. It’s such a perfect phrase for them. Many thanks and good wishes to you.

  15. Thank you for your post, it is a giraffe education! The giraffe’s at the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ are delightful and I enjoy their feeding-time experience. I will look at them through a different lens now.

    • Your comment was a delight, Nancy. It’s wonderful that you enjoy the giraffe’s feeding time at the zoo, and that you will have a little more information to enjoy them with now. If the sign does not state what subspecies they are, perhaps the zookeeper will know. Have fun — and many thanks.

    • I so enjoyed your introspective comment, Andrea, as always. It is indeed thrilling to see a giraffe in the wild. On my first safari the guides asked each one of us at the beginning what we most wanted to see. My response was the giraffe. And I have seen many in the wild since then, and each sighting is an absolute thrill. My favorite motor skill to watch is running.

  16. So interesting! I’m so grateful for all we learn from your posts. And I loved that you included the photo of a “classic” acacia tree!

    • The classic acacia sunset shot was a last-minute addition to the post, so I’m really glad you enjoyed it, Nan. Fun to share the giraffe info with you, and your avid interest is very much appreciated. Always a pleasure to have you visit, dear Nan.

    • It is a true pleasure to have you stop by, Carol, and I’m happy you enjoyed the giraffe post. It was great fun to compose, and educating for me, too.

  17. Thanks for the wonderful post Jet. I’ve been fascinated by African animals ever since watching The Wild Kingdom as a child. I had no clue about the many different subspecies, coloring, changing with age, etc. The photos are wonderful too. You and Athena make a good team. πŸ™‚

  18. I blog for many reasons but one of them is because of how much I learn. And one of the blogs I learn from the most is yours, Jet. I have always loved giraffes but I’ve never known why. And unfortunately the only way I’ve ever seen a giraffe is at the zoo, where I feel sorry for them because they really don’t look like they belong there. In these photographs – I can see they are exactly where they belong.

    • I appreciated your kind and thoughtful comment, Pam. You made my day. Some of my background includes teaching, and with teaching goes learning, and I do enjoy both. I’m glad Athena’s photographs gave you the sense of the natural habitat for these giraffes, they really do look so right in the African savanna. My warmest thanks for your visits today.

  19. Each time it happens. ” I had no idea.” Visiting your blog is like a trip to the classroom. I admit to being so eye-poppingly gobsmnacked to see giraffes in Africa, that I had no idea about differences in patterns. I imagine the guide spoke of it. I was likely in La-la land at the sight of dreams come true.

    • Yes, you know well the thrill and delight of spotting a giraffe in the wild, Sue. I’m glad I could give you the subspecies information, and am joyful at your visits today. Thanks so much, always wonderful to “see” you, my friend.

  20. I loved this! I did not know that there were 9 subspecies. I have only seen them in zoos and never realized that they have different patterns (probably because they all had the same one). So interesting. Thank you so much

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