Rothschild’s Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi)
The Rothschild’s giraffe, also known as the Ugandan Giraffe or Baringo giraffe, is one of the most interesting Big Game animals you’ll find on Uganda’s northern savannah plains.
The world’s tallest animal (up to 5.5m) towers above any animal and most plants and is one of the most exciting spectacles on the plains. The giraffe’s long neck gives it a slightly ungainly appearance when it ambles; giraffes look decidedly absurd when they adopt a semi-crouching position to drink.
New genetic work has suggested there could be four distinct species of giraffes (Fennessy et al., 2016; Winter, Fennessy, & Janke, 2018). The researchers propose that four new species of giraffes should be recognized as follows:
- the southern giraffe (G. giraffa), in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana,
- the Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi) in Tanzania, southern Kenya, and Zambia
- the reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) in northern Kenya, Somalia, and southern Ethiopia
- and the northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), in isolated groups
across central and West Africa.
They also propose one subspecies, the Nubian giraffe (G. camelopardalis camelopardalis), in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and western Kenya. The Nubian giraffe is proposed to be a distinct subspecies of the northern giraffe and encompasses what today we classify as the Rothschild’s giraffe (G. c. rothschilidi).
In 2010, the Rothschild’s giraffe was classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species (Fennessy & Brenneman, 2010) based on a population count at the time of <1,100 individuals remaining in the wild, no single population containing >250 mature individuals and confinement to just eleven isolated populations.
Since 2010, the population in Uganda was found to be higher than expected, resulting in the removal of the Endangered classification and a new assessment is currently underway. G. c. rothschildi has previously been considered genetically unique enough to be considered a separate species (Brown et al., 2007); yet other studies have reported that it is so similar to the
Nubian giraffe G. c. camelopardalis should be considered a population of that subspecies (Bock et al., 2014; Fennessy et al., 2016).
Disagreement is evident among researchers, but the currently accepted nomenclature and taxonomy of the Rothschild’s giraffe is as one of nine subspecies (Muller et al., 2016)
At present more than 1,550 Rothchild’s giraffe occur in Uganda. It is rare elsewhere in its former range but very common in the northern part of Murchison Falls National Park, Kidepo Valley, Lake Mburo, and very recently (2019) translocated to Pian Upe Game Reserve.
The world’s tallest animal (up to 5.5m) lives in loosely structured mixed-sex herds, typically numbering between five and 15 animals. As herd members may be dispersed over an area of up to 1km, they are frequently seen singly or in smaller groups, though enormous aggregations are often seen in Uganda.