Another old article from the Zambezi Traveller (Issue 5, June 2011)
Thornicroft’s Giraffe is a morphologically distinct subspecies of giraffe, identified by its dark star-shaped or leafy spot markings which extend down to the lower leg. It is one of two mammal subspecies endemic to the Luangwa Valley, the other being Cookson’s wildebeest.
The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is the tallest of all extant land-living animal species and the largest ruminant. Related to other even-toed ungulates, such as deer and cattle, it is placed in a separate family, the Giraffidae, consisting of only the giraffe and its closest living relative, the okapi, and their extinct relatives.
The giraffe was originally thought to be a cross between a camel and a leopard, a mistake immortalized in the giraffe's scientific name of Giraffa camelopardalis. The giraffe’s ‘horns’ are correctly termed ossicones.
Giraffe populations are estimated to total less than 80,000 individuals and are notable for their highly fragmented distribution. There are currently nine recognised giraffe sub‐species, differentiated by size and the colour and pattern of the markings on the coat. Recent genetic studies have indicated that several of these subspecies are distinct species in their own right, and that the Thornicroft's giraffe belongs to one of possibly six unique giraffe species.
Despite its prominence, limited monitoring and research has been undertaken on the Thornicroft's giraffe. In 2008, the Wilderness Wildlife Trust established the Luangwa Thornicroft's Giraffe Project to collect baseline information through the development of a photographic database. Coat patterns are unique to individuals and remain unchanged for their entire lives (although shade may change with age) allowing researchers to identify individual giraffe and furthermore track their movement and habits.
As an iconic symbol of Zambia, the Thornicroft's giraffe is an important tourism drawcard for visitors to the country and thus an economic asset for Zambia. It is currently estimated that fewer than 1,500 Thornicroft's giraffe remain in the wild.
Websites: www.giraffeconservation.org, www.wildernesstrust.com