There's no mistaking giraffes for another animal. With their long necks and gangly legs they're the tallest animals on the planet, but it might surprise you to learn there is more than one kind of giraffe. Although there are similarities, there are ways to tell the difference between types of giraffes.
One Species, Nine Sub-Species
There is only one species of giraffe, but within that species there are nine kinds. All have the same basic physical features. They can be as short as 16 feet tall or as tall as 19 feet. Both males and females have horns. The best way to tell the difference between a Somali giraffe and a smoky giraffe or differentiate between a Kordorfan and a Maasai giraffe is to look at their hides. It's the size, shape and color of giraffes' spots and sometimes even the placement of their patches that distinguishes a Rothschild giraffe from a Nubian or Thornicroft giraffe, or to tell a South African from a West African giraffe. Although spot shapes and colors will tell what type a giraffe is, no two giraffes' spot patterns are the same, much like fingerprints on humans.
All in Africa?
Aside from identifying a giraffe from his spots and coloring, it's possible to tell what type a giraffe is based on his location -- the different subspecies tend stick close to home in their own African neighborhoods. All the different kinds of giraffes are scattered liberally around the dark continent and can be found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania, the Congo, Uganda and Mozambique.
Whatever the type, wherever they live, giraffes are essentially giraffes. They're social herd animals who don't tend to be loners. They live in areas with thick forests as well as open plains as long as there are tall trees to graze on. Giraffes especially like to lunch on the leaves from acacia trees. They can make it through several days without drinking water because their bodies efficiently use moisture from the leaves they eat.
A Close Relative
An African animal who is closely related to giraffes is the okapi. The okapi has a horse-like body with a head that resembles a deer, but they don't have the long neck or stature of giraffes. Okapis have small, knobbed horns that are very similar to giraffes and they walk with a similar gait, but the one feature that is most resembles giraffes is the long black tongue, which okapis use for everything from picking leaves and buds to grooming.
Vulnerable But Not Endangered
All kinds of giraffes are hunted for a number of reasons including their coats, meat and even their tails. Because they aren't aggressive creatures, they're vulnerable, although not yet considered endangered. Out of the nine kinds of giraffes, the Rothschild giraffe is the closest to danger; fewer than 400 of them remain in the wild.
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Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.