Not all giraffes are the same species, it turns out.
Based on a new study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, researchers concluded that giraffes belong to four species, rather than just the single previously recognised one (Giraffa camelopardalis):
- Southern giraffe (G. giraffa)
- Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi)
- Reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata)
- Northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis)
For the study, the researchers looked at 190 giraffes in Africa. Based on their genes, the researchers concluded that the giraffes likely became separate species somewhere between 1.25 and 2 million years ago.
Apart from their genetic differences, the researchers also noted distinct physical traits among the animals. For example, as The New York Times notes, Masai giraffes have darker spots and more jagged lines on their skin, while northern giraffes tend to have horn structures.
The news does also has some unintended consequences for zookeepers:
“All zoos across the world that have giraffes will have to change their labels,” Axel Jenke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and one of the authors of the study told The Times.
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