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Giraffe Genetics

September 12, 2016

A DNA analysis reveals that giraffes make up four different species instead of just one.

Transcript

Damaraland Namibia Angolan giraffe herd Namibia Julian Fennessy 700

A herd of Angolan giraffes, Damaraland, Namibia. ( Julian Fennessy)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Giraffes break up. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Until now, scientists thought all giraffes across Africa belonged to the same species.

JULIAN FENNESSY (Giraffe Conservation Foundation):

…a single species with nine different subspecies.

HIRSHON:

But ecologist Julian Fennessy of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and his colleagues now report in Current Biology that living giraffes make up four genetically distinct species.

FENNESSY:

And these giraffes, some of them diverged one- or one-and-a-half million years ago, and that’s a huge separation in time.

HIRSHON:

Fennessy says the findings could impact the conservation and management of the world’s tallest animal. For example, giraffes are sometimes moved from areas of abundance to areas where their populations have dwindled.

FENNESSY:

And, you know, there’s been some great work to put those animals back, but now that we know there’s four different species, we need to be a little bit more careful to not just pick up any random giraffe and drop them off.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard