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News Article | September 14, 2016
Site: www.nature.com

One of the most iconic animals in Africa has a secret. A genetic analysis suggests that the giraffe is not one species, but 4 separate ones — a finding that could alter how conservationists protect these animals. Researchers previously split giraffes into several subspecies on the basis of their coat patterns and where they lived. Closer inspection of their genes, however, reveals that giraffes should actually be divided into four distinct lineages that don’t interbreed in the wild, researchers report on 8 September in Current Biology1. Previous genetic studies2 have suggested that there were discrete giraffe populations that rarely intermingled, but this is the first to detect species-level differences, says Axel Janke, a geneticist at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and the study’s senior author. “It was an amazing finding,” he says. He notes that giraffes are highly mobile, wide-ranging animals that would have many chances to interbreed in the wild if they were so inclined: “The million-dollar question is what kept them apart in the past.” Janke speculates that rivers or other physical barriers kept populations separate long enough for new species to arise. The study tracked the distribution of 7 specific genetic sequences — chosen to enable researchers to measure genetic diversity —  in nuclear DNA from skin biopsies of 190 giraffes. They also looked at the animals’ mitochondrial DNA. The sequences fell into four distinct patterns that strongly suggested separate species. Janke says that each of the four species is about as different from each other as the brown bear (Ursus arctos) is from the polar bear (Ursus maritimus). The researchers suggest replacing the current species name, Giraffa camelopardalis, with four new ones: the southern giraffe (G. giraffa), found mainly in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana; the Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi) of Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia; the reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) found mainly in Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia; and the northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), found in scattered groups in the central and eastern parts of the continent. The one remaining subspecies is the Nubian giraffe (G. camelopardalis camelopardalis) of Ethiopia and South Sudan. It is a distinct subspecies of the northern giraffe. “This study is pretty persuasive,” says George Amato, a conservation biologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who has conducted extensive research on the genetics of African wildlife. “I applaud the science and what it adds to our understanding of African biogeography.” Janke says that the findings have obvious implications for conservation: all of the giraffe species must be protected, with special attention paid to the northern and reticulated giraffe. Each of those species has fewer than 10,000 individuals. According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the overall number of giraffes has dropped from more than 140,000 in the late 1990s to fewer than 80,000 today, largely because of habitat loss and hunting. But applying the new findings to conservation efforts may be difficult. “So far, we haven’t really been able to fully appreciate the power of genomics in conservation,” says Aaron Shafer, a geneticist at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada. Genetics can uncover new species, but it's not always obvious how that knowledge should guide decisions about animal protection. Amato notes strong parallels between giraffes and African elephants, which were classified as a single species until a 2010 study3 provided genetic evidence that there were actually two: forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana). That finding increased calls for extra protection of the forest elephant, the rarer of the two. However, assessments of African elephants by the International Union for Conservation of Nature treat the animals as one species, due to concerns that splitting them into two species would place forest and savannah elephant hybrids into a kind of conservation limbo. Evidence showing that many populations of American bison (Bison bison) carry small amounts of domestic-cattle DNA4 prompted concerns over whether it was worth saving the contaminated herds, since they weren't completely wild. Amato and other biologists have argued that the animals still deserve protection. “They are ecologically functional bison,” Amato says. It remains to be seen whether the latest study will have any impact on giraffe conservation, he says. The most immediate effects may be felt in zoos that trade the mammals for breeding purposes: now that researchers have identified separate species, it should be easier for zookeepers to make appropriate matches. The discovery of separate giraffe species could have come sooner, but the animals have been largely neglected by science. “Giraffes were fairly ubiquitous in their habitat, and they weren’t much of a target for poachers,” Amato says. “They are an iconic animal, but they were taken for granted.”


News Article | December 8, 2016
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

The giraffe, the tallest land animal, is now at risk of extinction, biologists say. Because the giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 percent in just 30 years, scientists put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, calling it "vulnerable." That's two steps up the danger ladder from its previous designation of being a species of least concern. In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but in 2015 the number was down to 97,562, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At a biodiversity meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its "Red List" of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing. The giraffe is the only mammal whose status changed on the list this year. Scientists blame habitat loss. While everyone worries about elephants, Earth has four times as many pachyderms as giraffes, said Julian Fennessy and Noelle Kumpel, co-chairs of the specialty group of biologists that put the giraffe on the IUCN Red List. They both called what's happening to giraffes a "silent extinction." "Everyone assumes giraffes are everywhere," said Fennessy, co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. But they're not, Fennessy said. Until recently, biologists hadn't done a good job assessing giraffes' numbers and where they can be found, and they have been lumped into one broad species instead of nine separate subspecies. "There's a strong tendency to think that familiar species (such as giraffes, chimps, etc.) must be OK because they are familiar and we see them in zoos," said Duke University conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, who wasn't part of the work and has criticized the IUCN for not putting enough species on the threat list. "This is dangerous." Fennessy blamed shrinking living space as the main culprit in the declining giraffe population, worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into giraffe areas especially in central and eastern Africa. Giraffe numbers are plunging most in central and eastern Africa and are being offset by increases in southern Africa, he said. This has fragmented giraffe populations, making them shrink in size with wild giraffes gone from seven countries - Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal, said Kumpel of the Zoological Society of London. The IUCN says 860 plant and animal species are extinct, and another 68 are extinct in the wild. Nearly 13,000 are endangered or critically endangered. The next level is vulnerable, where giraffes were placed, followed by near threatened and least concerned. The status of two snake species worsened. The ornate ground snake, which lives on the tiny island of Saint Lucia, deteriorated from endangered to critically endangered. The Lacepede's ground snake of Martinique, which was already critically endangered, is now considered possibly extinct, pending confirmation, as is the trondo mainty, a river fish in Madagascar. But there is also good news for some species. The Victoria stonebasher, a freshwater fish in Africa, went from being considered endangered to least concerned with a stable population. And an African plant, the acmadenia candida, which was declared extinct, has been rediscovered and is now considered endangered. Another freshwater fish, ptychochromoides itasy, which hadn't been seen since the 1960s, has been rediscovered in small numbers in Africa's Sakay River and is now considered critically endangered.


News Article | December 8, 2016
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

The giraffe, the tallest land animal, is now at risk of extinction, biologists say. Because the giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 percent in just 30 years, scientists put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, calling it "vulnerable." That's two steps up the danger ladder from its previous designation of being a species of least concern. In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but in 2015 the number was down to 97,562, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At a biodiversity meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its "Red List" of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing. The giraffe is the only mammal whose status changed on the list this year. Scientists blame habitat loss. While everyone worries about elephants, Earth has four times as many pachyderms as giraffes, said Julian Fennessy and Noelle Kumpel, co-chairs of the specialty group of biologists that put the giraffe on the IUCN Red List. They both called what's happening to giraffes a "silent extinction." "Everyone assumes giraffes are everywhere," said Fennessy, co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. But they're not, Fennessy said. Until recently, biologists hadn't done a good job assessing giraffes' numbers and where they can be found, and they have been lumped into one broad species instead of nine separate subspecies. "There's a strong tendency to think that familiar species (such as giraffes, chimps, etc.) must be OK because they are familiar and we see them in zoos," said Duke University conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, who wasn't part of the work and has criticized the IUCN for not putting enough species on the threat list. "This is dangerous." Fennessy blamed shrinking living space as the main culprit in the declining giraffe population, worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into giraffe areas especially in central and eastern Africa. Giraffe numbers are plunging most in central and eastern Africa and are being offset by increases in southern Africa, he said. This has fragmented giraffe populations, making them shrink in size with wild giraffes gone from seven countries - Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal, said Kumpel of the Zoological Society of London. The IUCN says 860 plant and animal species are extinct, and another 68 are extinct in the wild. Nearly 13,000 are endangered or critically endangered. The next level is vulnerable, where giraffes were placed, followed by near threatened and least concerned. The status of two snake species worsened. The ornate ground snake, which lives on the tiny island of Saint Lucia, deteriorated from endangered to critically endangered. The Lacepede's ground snake of Martinique, which was already critically endangered, is now considered possibly extinct, pending confirmation, as is the trondo mainty, a river fish in Madagascar. But there is also good news for some species. The Victoria stonebasher, a freshwater fish in Africa, went from being considered endangered to least concerned with a stable population. And an African plant, the acmadenia candida, which was declared extinct, has been rediscovered and is now considered endangered. Another freshwater fish, ptychochromoides itasy, which hadn't been seen since the 1960s, has been rediscovered in small numbers in Africa's Sakay River and is now considered critically endangered.


News Article | December 13, 2016
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

Even some of the world’s most beloved animals can go extinct right in front of our eyes. That message got hammered home last week when the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared that the iconic giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) has now been listed as an endangered species. More specifically, the IUCN declared the giraffe to be “vulnerable to extinction,” two steps down from its previous listing as a species of “least concern.” According to recent surveys the giraffe’s population has dropped by about 40 percent from more than 150,000 in 1985 to just over 97,000 in 2015, mainly due to factors such as poaching and habitat loss. Of course, even that doesn’t tell the full story. The IUCN declaration does not yet take into account research published earlier this year which revealed that giraffes may actually be four separate and genetically distinct species. If the IUCN were to adopt this new taxonomy, then all four giraffe species would almost certainly be considered endangered, some critically so. Going that next step won’t be easy. “That will be a very slow process and more work on classical taxonomy will be required before initiating this change,” says Stephanie Fennessy, director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. What’s important now is less the taxonomic question and more getting the world motivated to protect all of the giraffes that remain. “The fact that the IUCN stuck with the one species for its assessment indicates to me that either science isn’t clear enough on the taxonomic front to declare separate species or that the pressing need to declare giraffes vulnerable and raise awareness about the threats they face was recognized by scientists as being more important than trying to resolve the taxonomic issues,” says Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “I think the take-home message is that we need to fight for the conservation of giraffes first and save all of these exceptional animals that we can so there’s time for the deep dive into learning about these remarkable mammals before we lose any more.” Although conservationists have been sounding the alarm for giraffes for the past few years—“Extinction Countdown” first covered their population drop in 2014—the fact that these gentle giants are now endangered appears to have come as quite a shock to the world. Last week’s announcement generated coverage from just about every major media outlet, as well as sad comments throughout social media. Along with the news, many people asked how we failed to see this coming. The answer to that question is that in many ways, the giraffe’s own high recognition value worked against it. Giraffes are so commonly seen in zoos, artwork, nature documentaries and safaris that even conservationists tend to think that the animals are actually plentiful. It’s the exact opposite of “out of sight, out of mind”—we see giraffes so often that we did not recognize the fact that they were actually disappearing. The IUCN declaration doesn’t bestow any new protections to the giraffe. That’s now up to the governments of Africa and the world. As Dr. Julian Fennessy, director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said in a prepared statement, “it is timely that we stick our necks out for giraffe before it is too late.”


News Article | September 9, 2016
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

Up until now, scientists had only recognized a single species of giraffe made up of several subspecies. But, according to the most inclusive genetic analysis of giraffe relationships to date, giraffes actually aren't one species, but four. For comparison, the genetic differences among giraffe species are at least as great as those between polar and brown bears. The unexpected findings reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on September 8 highlight the urgent need for further study of the four genetically isolated species and for greater conservation efforts for the world's tallest mammal, the researchers say. "We were extremely surprised, because the morphological and coat pattern differences between giraffe are limited," says Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University in Germany. Giraffes are also assumed to have similar ecological requirements across their range, he added, "but no one really knows, because this megafauna has been largely overlooked by science." Giraffes are in dramatic decline across their range in Africa. Their numbers have dropped substantially over the last three decades, from more than 150,000 individuals to fewer than 100,000. Despite that, the researchers say that there has been relatively little research done on giraffes in comparison to other large animals, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, gorillas, and lions. About five years ago, Julian Fennessy of Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Namibia approached Janke to ask for help with genetic testing of the giraffe. Fennessy wanted to know how similar (or not) giraffes living in different parts of Africa were to each other, whether past translocations of giraffe individuals had inadvertently "mixed" different species or subspecies, and, if so, what should be done in future translocations of giraffes into parks or other protected areas. In the new study, Janke and his research group examined the DNA evidence taken from skin biopsies of 190 giraffes collected by Fennessy and team all across Africa, including regions of civil unrest. The extensive sampling includes populations from all nine previously recognized giraffe subspecies. The genetic analysis shows that there are four highly distinct groups of giraffe, which apparently do not mate with each other in the wild. As a result, they say, giraffes should be recognized as four distinct species. Those four species include (1) southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), (2) Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi), (3) reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata), and (4) northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), which includes the Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis) as a distinct subspecies. The elusive Nubian giraffe from Ethiopia and the South Sudan region was the first described some 300 years ago, Fennessy says, and is now shown to be part of the northern giraffe. The discovery has significant conservation implications, the researchers say, noting that the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Species Survival Commission Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group recently submitted an updated proposed assessment of the giraffe on the IUCN Red List taking into consideration their rapid decline over the last 30 years. "With now four distinct species, the conservation status of each of these can be better defined and in turn added to the IUCN Red List," Fennessy says. "Working collaboratively with African governments, the continued support of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and partners can highlight the importance of each of these dwindling species, and hopefully kick start targeted conservation efforts and internal donor support for their increased protection. "As an example," he adds, "northern giraffe number less than 4,750 individuals in the wild, and reticulated giraffe number less than 8,700 individuals--as distinct species, it makes them some of the most endangered large mammals in the world." Janke and Fennessy say that they are now analyzing the amount of gene flow between the giraffe species in greater detail. In addition to expanding the ecological and species distribution data, they want to better understand the factors that limit gene flow and the giraffes' differentiation into four species and several subspecies.


News Article | September 8, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

Researchers have discovered there are not just one but four distinct species of giraffe, overturning two centuries of accepted wisdom in a finding that could boost efforts to save the last dwindling populations. Analysis of DNA evidence from all of the currently recognised nine sub-species found that there is not just one species of giraffe but enough genetic differences to recognise four distinct species. Experts said the differences are as large as those between brown bears and polar bears. Giraffe have suffered a decline in number from around 150,000 across Africa three decades ago to 100,000 today, as their habitat has been turned over to agriculture. But as a single species the giraffe is currently listed as of least concern on the red list of endangered species, leaving the tallest living animals a relatively low conservation focus compared to rhino and elephant. “People need to really figure out that giraffes are in danger. There are only 100,000 giraffes left in Africa. We’ll be working closely with governments and big NGOs to put giraffes on the radar,” said Dr Julian Fennessy, lead author of the new study which saw genetic testing in Germany on 190 giraffe. The four recommended new species are the southern giraffe, with two subspecies, the Angolan giraffe and South African giraffe; the Masai giraffe; the reticulated giraffe; and the northern giraffe including the Kordofan giraffe and west African giraffe as subspecies. If formally recognised as four separate species, three of those four would suddenly be deemed more seriously threatened by the red list, Fennessay said, which would hopefully catalyse greater efforts to protect them. While the southern giraffe was increasing markedly in number, populations in east and central Africa were in trouble, he said. “It’s all habitat loss, fragmentation and a lot of that is, let’s be honest, linked to human population growth – increasing land for agricultural needs, whether for commercial or for subsistence farming,” he said, speaking from Windhoek, Namibia. “In some of these countries though there is illegal hunting or poaching causing the decline.” Co-author Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University in Germany, said: “This has huge implications for conservation. It’s also significant from an evolutionary aspect: the giraffe is a very young species and we see evolution, becoming species, in real time, happening in front of our eyes.” Both said they were surprised at the number of genetically distinct species, because the currently recognised nine subspecies are relatively similar-looking. The most obvious differences are in the shape of their patterns and how far they extend, and how many horns the creatures have. The study also suggested that the four species do not mate with each other in the wild, an unexpected finding given giraffe move far and wide, and have been shown to interbreed in captivity. The historically accepted definition of one species of giraffe was based on a description in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, who examined a Nubian giraffe (now to be considered as a northern giraffe). The new study’s discovery that there are in fact four will not come as a a total surprise to those who study giraffe closely – previous research has suggested some subspecies appeared genetically distinct enough to be considered separate species. The conclusions of the study, which took five years, will be now be reviewed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s specialist group on giraffes. In a statement, the IUCN said: “The number of species of giraffes has come in for much discussion and debate in recent years. The findings of this latest study will need to be carefully evaluated, as it could - as the authors note - have considerable implications for their conservation. We know that giraffes, while widely distributed, are declining nearly across their range, with some narrowly distributed populations in serious trouble. “If the findings of the current study are accepted, then it may well be that some species would be listed in threatened categories on the IUCN red list. This would hopefully flag the need for increased attention on a species that is otherwise normally considered common.” Fennessy, who is also co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said: “I would just hope that as the IUCN reviews this, they look at the fact 200 years ago people looked at giraffe coat patterns from samples sent from Africa and made a decision to call it one species and nine subspecies. And now, using nuclear mitochondrial and genomic DNA, I think more science can help us answer the mystery.” The new study, Multi-locus Analyses Reveal Four Giraffe Species Instead of One, was published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday.


Giraffes appear to be one single creature but findings of a new study have revealed that there are actually four different species of the long-necked mammals. Geneticist Axel Janke, from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University in Germany, said that the findings change the status of the animals in terms of how endangered their species are. About a third of the giraffe population was lost over the past three decades alone but the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does not consider giraffes as endangered. They remain classified as least concern. The discovery that the animal is composed of at least four different species, which was published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday, Sept. 8, can have crucial implications in giraffe conservation campaigns. Giraffes taken as one number nearly 100,000 but when they are considered to be four separate species, the animals would appear to be in more dire need of help and support. The southern giraffe only numbers about 52,000, the reticulated giraffe has a population of about 8,700, the Masai giraffe has about 32,500 individuals and the northern giraffe has a bleak number of only 4,750. Scientists also said that the different species are about as distinct as polar bears and brown bears and because populations are composed of different species, giraffes could not reproduce with one another. "They normally don't hybridize and have fertile offspring in nature," Janke said. Conservationists would have to take into account that the different species do not commonly crossbreed when planning for strategies that aim to help improve the number of the animals. "The remaining former giraffe subspecies cluster genetically into four highly distinct groups, and we suggest that these should be recognized as discrete species," Janke and colleagues wrote in their study. "The conservation implications are obvious, as giraffe population numbers and habitats across Africa continue to dwindle due to human-induced threats." The population of the giraffe has long been declining. The decline in their population is widely blamed on habitat loss, excessive hunting and poaching. The skin of the giraffe is used for clothing items and in some countries like Tanzania, the hunt is driven by beliefs that some parts of the animal can treat HIV infection. "With now four distinct species, the conservation status of each of these can be better defined and in turn added to the IUCN Red List," said Julian Fennessy, from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Namibia.


News Article | September 9, 2016
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

The world of giraffe conservation just got turned upside down. New genetic tests reveal that Africa’s giraffes are not all the same species. Instead, they are actually four separate, genetically isolated species, each of which may now be much more at risk than previously realized. The total population for all four species is now estimated at about 90,000 animals—far fewer than the number of elephants left on the continent. A paper proposing the new giraffe taxonomy appeared this week in the journal Current Biology. In addition to the four species, researchers also identified several newly recognized or reorganized subspecies. Giraffes were previous recognized as one species with up to eleven different subspecies, some of which were already contentious. The new species, as detailed in the paper, are: The identification of new giraffe species also reveals how endangered some of these populations have become, Giraffe Conservation Foundation president Julian Fennessy said in a prepared release. “For example, the northern giraffe number less than 4,750 individuals in the wild, and reticulated giraffe number less than 8,700 individuals—as distinct species, it makes them some of the most endangered large mammals in the world and requires doubling of protection efforts to secure these populations.” Of the four species, only two appear to currently be fairly healthy. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation estimates the southern giraffe population at 52,000 animals and the Masai giraffe at 32,500. The worst off? That would be the West African giraffe subspecies, with just 450 left alive today. Will this genetic revelation light a fire under efforts to conserve all of Africa’s giraffes? That’s definitely the hope. This research came out of work to understand just how much each of the continent’s previously accepted giraffe subspecies were at risk. Now we know more than we expected, and that can only help in the long run.


News Article | October 26, 2016
Site: www.biologynews.net

Scientists from the Senckenberg and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation have analysed the genetic relationships of all major populations of giraffe in the wild. The large study on the genetic makeup of giraffe, published today in Current Biology, shows that there are four distinct giraffe species. Until now, only one giraffe species had been recognized. The unexpected results are based on analyses using several nuclear marker genes of more than 100 animals. The new insights are set to improve protection efforts of these endangered animals in Africa. Despite their large size and iconic presence, giraffe have been incompletely explored until now, with many aspects of their biology poorly understood. Latest estimates have revealed that giraffe numbers have plummeted by >35% over the past 30 years down to approximately 100,000 individuals across their range in Africa. Traditionally giraffe are classified as one species with nine subspecies based on coat patterns, ossicone (horn) structure and geographical distribution - now, this view has to be thoroughly revised. "We have studied the genetic relationships of all giraffe subspecies from across the continent. We found, that there are not only one, but at least four genetically highly distinct groups of giraffe, which apparently do not mate with each other in the wild. This we found looking at multiple nuclear genes considered to be representative of the entire genome" says Professor Axel Janke, researcher at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research and Professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. "Consequently, giraffe should be recognized as four distinct species despite their similar appearance." The four distinct giraffe species are (1) southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), comprising two distinct subspecies, Angolan (G. g. angolensis) and South African giraffe (G. g. giraffa), (2) Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi), (3) reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata), and (4) northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), which includes Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), West African giraffe (G. c. peralta) and Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum) as distinct subspecies. The study and new classification is based on more than hundred skin biopsy samples from all previously recognized giraffe subspecies, which were collected by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and partners over the past decade including in remote areas and civil war zones. These giraffe DNA samples were then analyzed by Janke's research group at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in cooperation with colleagues from the Senckenberg Natural History Collections of Dresden, Germany. The sample set included for the first time the elusive Nubian giraffe, the nominate subspecies (G. c. camelopardalis) - the "camel-leopard" - described by Linnaeus in 1758 on the basis of a 200-year-old record. The large-scale analysis of giraffe DNA also yielded further surprising insights. The formerly recognized subspecies Rothschild's giraffe (G. c. rothschildi) turned out to be genetically identical with Nubian giraffe, and thus should be synonymized with this subspecies. Similarly, the genetic studies supported previous findings by the team that could not differentiate the formerly recognized subspecies Thornicroft's giraffe (G. c. thornicrofti) with Masai giraffe (G. c. tippelskirchi). Additionally, research into the history of the distinct species showed that their last common ancestor lived about 0.4-2.0 million years ago, which yields a rate of speciation that is typical for mammals. "Species conservation is based on understanding the numbers, range and threats to the species. To date, the estimated total number of all giraffe has until now not been considered a particular threat for the species' survival. However, as we now recognize four distinct species as well as some genetically unique subspecies, some of their biodiversity is very much under threat," explains Janke. "In particular, GCF estimates that there are maybe as few as 400 West African giraffe remaining in the wild and restricted to a small communal area in Niger. Although it is not a distinct species, this subspecies is genetically unique and requires increased special protection along with the other distinct species." Dr. Julian Fennessy, first author of the study and Co-Director of GCF adds, "Now that we know that there are four giraffe species, it is even more important and urgent to support governments and other partners across Africa to protect giraffe. We rightly worry about the fate of the African elephant, with an estimated 450,000 in the wild. By contrast, the numbers of three of the four giraffe species are rapidly declining, and two numbering


News Article | December 22, 2016
Site: phys.org

Here are some unusual facts about one of the most distinctive-looking creatures on the continent. The giraffe's best-known feature can be longer than most people are tall. However, like humans it still only has seven vertebrae. Each is about 25 centimetres (10 inches) long. It is used to reach high up into trees for food but too short to reach the ground, so the animals have to splay their legs or kneel down to drink water. Luckily they only drink every few days and get most of their hydration from plants. The neck is also used in an elaborate ritual fight known as "necking" in which giraffes swing at each other to establish dominance. With its spotted pattern and long legs and neck, the giraffe was given the Latin name "camelopardalis", meaning "camel marked like a leopard". But the spots are not only for camouflage. According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), each patch is surrounded by a sophisticated system of blood vessels which act as thermal windows to release body heat. A thermal scan of a giraffe shows the intensity of heat in its body matching the pattern of the spots. Like the human fingerprint, each giraffe has its own unique pattern. It's not just the neck and legs which are outsized on a giraffe. Its tongue can measure up to 50 centimetres to give the animal even more leverage in nibbling from the top of its favoured tree, the acacia. The tongue's blue-black colour is believed to shield the organ from sun exposure and it is widely accepted that a giraffe's sticky saliva has antiseptic properties to protect it from spiky thorns on the acacia. A giraffe's heart weights up to 11 kilograms—to power blood up a neck of nearly two metres—and beats up to 170 times per minute, double the speed of a human heart. Giraffes have one of the longest gestation periods, at 15 months. They give birth standing up, which means their calves drop just under two metres to the ground. This startling introduction to life gets them up and running around in less than an hour. A newborn calf is bigger than the average adult. In the wild, giraffes can live up to 25 years, while in captivity they can survive over 35 years. Giraffes evolved from an antelope-like animal of about three metres tall that roamed the forests of Asia and Europe 30 to 50 million years ago. Its closest living relative is the okapi. In September scientists revealed there were in fact four distinct giraffe species and not one, as initially thought. Explore further: Conflict in Africa blocking efforts to save giraffes

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