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How To Tell Giraffes Apart

February 17, 2015 3 min read

How to tell giraffes apart

The very first stop on our summer-long zip-line journey was the African grasslands. We had the pleasure of meeting the best safari guide in Kenya, Nicholas Mzuri.

We also had the misfortune of being stranded in the heart of the grasslands when the Man with No Eyebrows stole our Jeep!

After our Jeep was absconded (<-that dictionary app is paying off!), we spent the night in a make-shift fort of acacia branches. I (Tracey) was awakened by a giant purple tongue licking acacia leaves out of my hair.

Needless to say, it was a bit unsettling!

Nicholas calmed me down by sharing about the owner of that purple tongue – the giraffe. We learned cool facts like:

  • Giraffes are the world’s tallest animals.
  • They eat the leaves, twigs, and shoots from the tops of the acacia trees (and apparently people’s hair too).
  • This mammal has a long purple tongue that can strip the leaves off the thorny branches.
  • A giraffe has thick lips to protect its mouth from the thorns.

But after we got home and had recovered from a summer’s worth of sonic lag – I was left with one question. How in the world can you tell the difference between the different types of giraffes?

So today, Blaine and I have asked Nicholas to come and share the answer to our burning question with you all!

How To Tell Giraffes Apart

Hello, friends!

As I shared with Blaine and Tracey while they were on their Mzuri Tours photo safari trip, the spotted patterns of the giraffe's hide help to camouflage them. But those spots can also help us to identify which subspecies of giraffe the particular animal belongs to.

Here is a look at the nine main subspecies of giraffe in Africa.

  1. The Kordofan Giraffe – This giraffe is found along the southern end of Chad and northern Congo. It has spots that are typically smaller than the rest of the subspecies of giraffes.
  2. The Masai Giraffe – This giraffe is found in areas of Kenya and Tanzania. Its unusual spots have jagged edges and are the darkest ones of the giraffe subspecies.
  3. The Reticulated Giraffe – This giraffe is commonly found in northern Kenya and Somalia. Its spots are clearly defined network of brownish-orange patches.
  4. The Angolan Giraffe – This giraffe is found in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It has large uneven spots that go all the way down their legs and are relatively light in color.
  5. The Nubian Giraffe – This giraffe has a very small population found in Ethiopia. Its large, 4-sided spots are chestnut brown and do not continue below the knees of the creature.
  6. The Southern Giraffe – This giraffe is found mainly in northern South Africa. Its coat has blotchy-star shaped spots that extend all the way down its leg.
  7. The Rothschild Giraffe – This giraffe is found mainly in Uganda and Kenya. It has large dark brown spots that do not extend down its legs.
  8. The Thornicraft’s Giraffe – This giraffe can only be found in eastern Zambia. Its coat is covered with large, ragged, leave-shaped spots that are dark brown in color.
  9. The Western (or Nigerian) Giraffe – This giraffe has a very small population found in Nigeria. Its large tan, rectangular spots give it the lightest-coloring of the giraffe subspecies.

You can check out this photo collage of the different giraffe coats from the CS Zoo to see these patterns up close. (Photo Collage Credit)


The science of classifying the different subspecies of giraffes is still a work in progress, but I trust that this will give you all a glimpse at how you can tell these amazing creatures apart!

by Nicholas Mzuri

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