How many species of Giraffe are there?

Some people might be confused by the media announcing that there are “now” four species of giraffes, followed shortly thereafter by the IUCN press release that there is one species of giraffe (with nine subspecies) now considered to be Vulnerable to Extinction on the Red List.  The IUCN currently recognizes one species of giraffe with 9 subspecies.

The attached articles from the scientific journal, Current Biology should help to clarify the situation.  The first article challenges the four species claim, noting that there are one, two, four, at least six, or eight species, depending upon the reference consulted.  The second article is the invited response by the original co-authors of the 4-species plan.

The differences in giraffe taxonomy schemes are based upon different definitions of species, different sets of data, different statistical analyses, and different interpretations of the findings.  Hence, the four species conclusion is simply one possible way to partition giraffe biological relationships.

Most notably, the last sentence of the response states that their analyses “create a basis for future taxonomy discussions and conservation efforts.”  Those taxonomic discussions are a priority for the world’s giraffe experts, as decided at the IUCN Antelope, Giraffe, Hippo Conference recently held in Prague.

So, expect the taxonomy of giraffes to remain open to various interpretations, while the one-species plan remains in place at the IUCN, until the world’s giraffe experts reach a consensus.


F.B. Bercovitch, P.S. Berry, A. Dagg, F. Deacon, J.B. Doherty, D.E. Lee, F. Mineur, Z. Muller, R. Ogden, R. Seymour & B. Shorrocks. 2017. How many species of giraffe are there? Current Biology 27:R136-R137.

Leave a Comment

Share This