How to identify a giraffe

There are 9 subspecies of giraffe living across Africa and while they all look similar – and have two eyes, four legs, and brown spots – there is a really simple way to distinguish between them by eye.


Here’s our super-quick guide to identifying giraffes!


1. Angolan giraffe (Giraffa c.angolensis)


Territory: northern Namibia, south-western Zambia, Botswana, and western Zimbabwe

Pattern: Large brown blotches with notched or uneven edges. The pattern is not found on the upper part of the face.


2. Kordofan giraffe (Giraffa c.antiquorum)


Territory: southern Chad, Central African Republic, northern Cameroon, northern DR Congo.

Pattern: Small, irregular spots. Spotting may also appear on the insides of the legs.


3. Masai giraffe (Giraffa c.tippelschirchi)


Territory: central and southern Kenya, and Tanzania.

Pattern: irregular and distinctive spotting, jagged in shape, and dark in colour. The spots extend down the length of the leg to the hooves.


4. Nubian giraffe (Giraffa c.camelopardalis)


Territory: south Sudan, and south western Ethiopia.

Pattern: The spots are chestnut in colour and sharply defined. The undersides have no distinct pattern.


5. Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa c.reticulata)


Territory: north-eastern Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Pattern: The spots are very well defined and clear-cut. They are reddish-brown in colour, more rounded than spots of other species, and divided by a thin white line.


6. Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa c.rothschildi)


Territory: Uganda and Kenya

Pattern: Large, dark, patches, with uneven edges. The spotting does not extend below the knee (or hock).


7. South African giraffe (Giraffa c.giraffa)


Territory: northern South Africa, southern Botswana, southern Zimbabwe, and southern Mozambique.

Pattern: Dark and rounded patches on a background of tawny coloured lines. As the spots extend down the leg they get smaller.


8. Thornicroft’s giraffe (Giraffa c.thornicrofti)


Territory: Zambia

Pattern: The spots have been described as star-shaped because of their jagged appearance.


9. West African giraffe (Giraffa c.peralta)


Territory: south-western Niger

Pattern: Much lighter in colour than the other species, with spots that extend to the hooves.