10th World Giraffe Day: 'gentle Giants' Endangered

21 Jun 2024

The figures are alarming: they no longer exist in almost 90 per cent of their range around 1700. And only just under 30 per cent of the areas where they can be found today are protected in the form of national parks. There is no doubt about it: the giraffe, one of Africa's heraldic animals, is an endangered species.

How serious is the situation of the tallest land animal on earth? Year after year, 21 June is a reminder of this question. The day with the longest daylight in the northern hemisphere and the longest night in the southern hemisphere. In 2014, it was declared World Giraffe Day. On the initiative of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), which is also active in Namibia.

Angola giraffe Damaraland northwest GCF Namibia
Angolan giraffes in Damaraland in north-west Namibia. Photo: GCF

Today marks the 10th World Giraffe Day. Without their threat having noticeably diminished. Incidentally, this status has only been officially recognised since 2016 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At that time, it placed the giraffe on its Red List and categorised it as endangered.

The overall population of giraffes in Africa has been shrinking dramatically for decades. From around 155,000 animals in 1980 to around 117,000 in 2020, the GCF estimated according to its 2022 collection of facts "Africa's Giraffe - A Conservation Guide". That is a decline of almost a quarter. Without causing an international outcry. In contrast to the African elephant, of which there were almost four times as many individuals in 2018 at 415,000 animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Three, four or eight species of giraffe

On closer inspection, the picture becomes even darker. Apparently, there is not just one species of giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis, with nine subspecies, as on the 2016 IUCN list, but several species, some of which should be categorised as critically endangered. Depending on the method used, recent studies show that three, four or even eight giraffe species can be distinguished (see also Wikipedia).

In 2016, researchers concluded from a genetic analysis that there are four species that have not exchanged genes with each other for hundreds of thousands of years. A detailed genetic study conducted by the GCF in 2021, in which the entire genome was sequenced, confirmed this hypothesis. It identified four giraffe species with seven subspecies:

1. the Northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis) in North and Central Africa, with the three subspecies Nubian (G. c. camelopardalis), Kordofan (G. c. antiquorum) and West African giraffe (G. c. peralta);

2. the Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi) in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, with the subspecies Luangwa (G. t. thornicrofti) and Masai giraffe (G. t. tippelskirchi);

3. the reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) in north-east Kenya;

4. the southern giraffe (G. giraffa) in southern Africa, with the two subspecies Angola giraffe (G. g. angolensis) and South Africa giraffe (G. g. giraffa).

Giraffe distribution areas Africa GCF Namibia
Distribution areas of giraffes in Africa, around 1700 and today. Graphic (2020, legend edited): GCF


Two subspecies of giraffe threatened with extinction

The reticulated giraffe with almost 16,000 animals and the northern giraffe with 5,900 animals appear to be particularly endangered. The Masai giraffe, on the other hand, accounts for almost 40 per cent of the total number of giraffes in Africa with just under 45,000 individuals. However, because their population has shrunk considerably, the IUCN still considers them to be endangered.

n contrast to the Masai giraffe, the southern giraffe is doing extremely well. According to the GCF, their numbers have practically doubled from 25,000 in 1990 to almost 50,000 at the end of 2020. This is also due to flourishing tourism, which motivates lodges and farmers to settle and protect giraffes.

Nevertheless, the IUCN refined its Red List in 2018 and 2019. Eight of the nine subspecies have now been categorised separately, based on the GCF's estimated numbers and developments in recent years.


Nubian giraffe (3,000) - critically endangered

Kordofan giraffe (2,300) - critically endangered

West African giraffe (600) - vulnerable


Luangwa giraffe (650) - vulnerable

Maasai giraffe (44,750) - endangered


Reticulated giraffe (15,950) - endangered

Angola giraffe (20,200) - not endangered


The South African giraffe (29,650) has not yet been recognised by the IUCN. It also lists the Rothschild giraffe, which is genetically identical to the Nubian giraffe.

Namibia is home to the Angola giraffe. It is protected by several national parks, private nature reserves, game farms and communal conservancies. The GCF estimates the total number in Namibia at 16,000 Angola giraffes and 250 South African giraffes. The next survey for the IUCN will take place next year.

Sven-Eric Stender


Sorry, we can’t seem to find any matches for your search. Have a look at our popular searches below.