Whoever has never seen a giraffe up close has at least had the opportunity to see it through photos.
Apparently, this animal appears to be identical to the rest of the same species, but the truth is that scientists have discovered the existence of four types of giraffe species in the world.
They are: southern giraffe ( Giraffa giraffa ), Masai giraffe ( Giraffa tippelskirchi ), reticulated giraffe ( Giraffa reticulata ) and northern giraffe ( Giraffa camelopardalis ).
With an article published in the magazine “Current Biology” dealing with this topic, the professor at the Center for Climate and Biodiversity Research in Frankfurt, Germany, Axel Janke was surprised by the discovery. However, the most worrying thing about the whole study is knowing that giraffes are now at risk of extinction.
Before the study was carried out, scientists believed that there was only one species of giraffe and nine subspecies. Therefore, the discovery was made through a study made with the DNA markers of the genomes of 105 animals in this group. After looking at the samples, the researchers realized that these markers were different, obtaining four types.
“When we did the first analysis, the differences were already so stark that at the time I saw that there was something there,” said Janke in an interview with BuzzFeed News. However, the author explained that he had doubts early on. “At first I was reluctant to call them species, because that is not done without being sure”, he says. This soon changed when they reached the end of the study.
What are the physical differences between species?
Giraffes’ appearances are very similar, which is why researchers spent a long time before distinguishing the four species. Now it is possible to notice very detailed differences between these animals, for example the lattices have large dark spots on their coat and very straight lines.
Masai have beveled lines and the darkest part of the spots is the center of them. The northern and southern giraffes, on the other hand, are distinguished by their horns, for while the former have five such structures, the latter have only three.
The threat of extinction
There is an estimate regarding the number of giraffes in the world, which is 90 thousand individuals. This number in the formula for a single species did not make the giraffe an animal at risk of extinction. However, with the discovery of four species, this group is placed in the “endangered” category of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
To have an idea of the decline of these animals, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation warns with the quantitative data of this species. “There are less than 4,750 northern giraffes in the wild and less than 8,700 articulated giraffes – as distinct species, this makes them one of the most at risk mammals in the world.”