A female spotless reticulated giraffe was born in northeastern Tennessee on July 31, 2023, and then a young Angolan spotless giraffe was photographed on a private reserve in Namibia.
Would you like to spot giraffes in the wild? This article features five top spots for viewing giraffes in Africa.
How rare are spotless giraffes?
Spotting reticulated giraffes, who live in northern Kenya and Somalia’s dry savannas and woodlands, is increasingly difficult as their numbers are decreasing. Around 16,000 reticulated giraffes exist in the wild. Their population has decreased by approximately 50% over the last three decades. They were listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2018.
In contrast, Angolan giraffes are found in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, where they live in desert and semi-desert areas. About 10,173 mature Angolan giraffes exist, according to an IUCN study published in 2020. Their population has increased over the last three decades, and the IUCN says this species is of least concern.
And what of the two 2023 sightings of spotless giraffes of both reticulated and Angolan subspecies? How rare are spotless giraffes?
Officials say that until the birth in Tennessee on July 31, 2023, the only record of a reticulated giraffe born without spots was in Japan in 1972. The young, spotless Angolan giraffe may be the first ever photographed in the wild.
Usually, reticulated giraffes have a clearly defined network of brownish-orange patches on their coats, separated by thin white lines that create a web-like effect. Angolan giraffes have large, light, uneven spots that reach down onto their legs.
Both the reticulated and Angolan giraffes’ lack of spots is likely caused by a genetic mutation or recessive genotype that affects their coat pattern. The exact mechanism and its implications for their survival are unknown. Spotless giraffes do not seem to have any health problems or disadvantages because of their lack of spots.
Want to spot giraffes in their native habitat? Five top spots for giraffe
Historically, giraffes ranged from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south and from Niger in the west to Somalia in the east. However, giraffes have lost much of their original habitat and are no longer found in Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. They may also have vanished from Angola, Mali, and Nigeria but have been reintroduced to Rwanda and Eswatini. Giraffes evolved approximately 25 million years ago from hoofed animals that lived in both Africa and Eurasia. They died out in Eurasia but survived and diversified in Africa, forming several subspecies with different coat patterns in different regions.
Of the eight recognized giraffe subspecies (based on physical features and geographic ranges), the Kordofan and Nubian giraffes are critically endangered. In comparison, the reticulated giraffe and the Maasai giraffe are endangered, and the West African giraffe and Thornicroft’s giraffe are vulnerable. The number of Angolan giraffes, widespread where Angola, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia meet, is increasing. As a result, the Okavango Delta and Namibia take the top spots on our list below.
Here are 5 of the best places to see giraffes in the wild, to learn about their unique challenges, and to support their conservation:
The Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta is more than a wetland; it is Earth’s largest inland water system. The delta’s headwaters lie in the western highlands of Angola, joining with other rivers in Namibia and Botswana to meet the Kalahari Desert, where a green oasis sprawls amid the sands and dry savanna. When rains create rising floodwaters, the delta is a vast network of waterways and islands that are home to a profuse collection of wildlife and lush vegetation. The Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering over 5,700 square miles.
Thanks to Botswana’s conservation and management practices, it is teeming with wildlife; you can encounter some of the most iconic and endangered species of Africa, including crocodiles, elephants, hippos, leopards and lions. The Okavango Delta is home to almost 15% of all the giraffes in Africa.
The Okavango Delta is also one of the best places to spot the Angolan giraffe, also known as the Namibian giraffe. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) reported that the majority of the world’s Angolan giraffes, over 7,600, lived in the Okavango Delta in 2019, and that number has been increasing, thanks in part to the vast amount of fresh water available on the delta. Giraffes elsewhere across the continent struggle in drought conditions.
WWF has been working in the Okavango Delta for decades, monitoring wildlife, promoting community-based resource management, fostering border cooperation, and supporting ecotourism. Natural Habitat Adventures’ Family Botswana Safari offers exploration via 4×4 vehicle, light aircraft and even mokoro, a traditional poled dugout canoe.
One of the most exciting times to stay in a luxury bush camp is during the annual flooding of the delta, which peaks between June and August. The waterways swell to three times their permanent size, attracting thousands of animals and creating one of Africa’s most spectacular concentrations of wildlife.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Giraffes are found throughout the dry savanna habitats of Namibia, including open grassland, woodland and scrubland and along ephemeral rivers. Their range extends west and southwest of Etosha National Park into similar or more arid habitats in the northern and central Namib Desert.
Etosha National Park is a remarkable destination for giraffe enthusiasts, as it hosts Namibia’s largest population, and Namibia has more giraffes than any other country on Earth. Most of Namibia’s over 12,000 giraffes are Angolan giraffes classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss, poaching, disease, and human-wildlife conflict. Namibia’s giraffe population is growing, though, and its range increasing.
Etosha National Park also boasts one of the biggest salt pans on the planet, visible from space, which attracts a diversity of wildlife to its edges. The Etosha Pan is a 1,900 square mile endorheic salt pan, forming part of the Cuvelai-Etosha Basin in the north of Namibia. The pan is the remnant of a lake that existed 2 million years ago. The landscape now supports grasslands and large camel thorn trees mixed with mopane, also known as ironwood. Bare and dry today, the depression offers Namibia’s best wildlife viewing, with elephant, black and white rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, springbok, oryx, kudu and the diminutive dik-dik drawn to its life-sustaining waterholes, many of which are the result of natural springs. Birdlife is abundant, and we may see ostrich and raptors. The park also plays a vital role in the recovery of the endemic black-faced impala.
Giraffes have a long history in Namibia, as evidenced by rock paintings and engravings found in the Kunene Region. Travelers can explore this rich heritage by visiting the country and its expansive wildlife parks, such as Etosha, which offers a range of accommodation options from camping to luxury lodges.
Travelers on Nat Hab’s Epic Botswana and Namibia Safari stay on the private Ongava Reserve adjoining Etosha National Park; a conservation success story achieved when local families turned unproductive cattle ranches into a 74,000-acre wildlife haven. Our lodge enjoys an isolated setting on the reserve, surrounded by Namibia’s best wildlife viewing, with easy access to the national park. Day and night drives, guided walks and strategically placed hides provide varied perspectives on regional wildlife.
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest, covering over 1,400 square miles bisected by the Nile River. Water flows through a narrow gorge, creating dramatic plunging waterfalls and rapids, traversing through riverine forests to wetlands near savanna grasslands and woodlands. Over 450 bird species, crocodiles, and 70 mammals, including buffaloes, elephants, hippos, lions, leopards and giraffes, call Uganda’s oldest national park home.
Uganda is home to one of the most threatened subspecies of giraffes: the Nubian giraffe, of which Rothschild giraffes are a subset.
The Nubian giraffe has distinctive, sharply defined chestnut-colored spots separated by white lines. The median lump is particularly developed in the male giraffe. The most extraordinary characteristic of the Nubian giraffe is that the extreme length of the forelegs gives the animal a huge stride so that despite a slow galloping rhythm, it can move at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.
Nubian giraffes once ranged across western Kenya, western Ethiopia, southern South Sudan and Uganda. Today, the Nubian giraffe has been largely eliminated from much of its former range. By far, the largest population of this subspecies lives in and around Murchison Falls.
In 2010, it was estimated that only 250 Nubian giraffes lived in their native range in Murchison Falls National Park. The first surveys and genetic sampling at Murchison Falls National Park indicate that giraffe numbers are higher than initially estimated and continue to increase. As of 2016, it was estimated that 2,150 Nubian giraffes live in the wild, 1,500 of those of the Rothschild’s ecotype. Most are in Uganda. The Nubian giraffe was listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN in 2018 for the first time due to a 95% decline in the past three decades.
In 2018, the GCF reported a total of 1,570 giraffes in the Murchison Falls National Park. Conservation efforts involving anti-poaching patrols and translocations can be thanked for this growth.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Serengeti National Park is a large and complex ecosystem in east-central Africa, covering an area of over 11,500 square miles across Tanzania and Kenya. It is composed of diverse habitats, such as savannas, woodlands, riverine forests, swamps, and kopjes (rocky outcrops). The National Park is roughly the size of Maryland, and its reputation as one of the world’s iconic nature destinations is well deserved. The Serengeti supports a high biodiversity of flora and fauna, including over 70 large mammals and 500 bird species. It is especially well-known for hosting the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world when, from May through July, millions of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle move across the plains in search of food and water. The Serengeti is also home to a high density of predators, such as lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards.
The Serengeti hosts two subspecies of giraffes: the Maasai giraffe and the reticulated giraffe. The Maasai giraffe has dark brown patches that are irregular and jagged. Over 3,0000 Maasai giraffes can be observed across the Serengeti’s plains or in woodlands and hills, grazing on acacia trees and shrubs. Reduced food supply and increased poaching are shrinking the number of giraffes in the park, from 8,500 in 1979 to 3,000 in 2013.
It is the largest-bodied giraffe species, making it the tallest land animal on Earth. Bulls can weigh up to 2,900 pounds and reach 18 feet tall. The Maasai giraffe’s neck contains seven vertebrae and makes up roughly one-third of its body height. Its long and muscular tongue, which can be up to 20 inches in length, is prehensile and allows it to grab leaves from tall trees that are inaccessible to other animals. The tongue’s darker pigment is believed to prevent sunburn. On top of the head are bony structures called ossicones, covered by thick skin and dark hair. These can be used during fights to club their opponent. When galloping, the Maasai giraffe has been recorded to reach speeds of almost 40 miles per hour.
Maasai giraffes are considered endangered by the IUCN, and the Maasai giraffe population has declined by 52% in recent decades due to poaching and habitat loss. The population amounts to 32,550 in the wild.
On Nat Hab’s Ultimate East Africa Safari, enjoy seclusion and a front-row view of all the wildlife action from a private mobile camp under starry African skies.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger National Park, established in 1898, is South Africa’s oldest and largest national park, spanning an area of nearly 7,700 square miles. It encompasses a diverse range of habitats and ecosystems in the Lowveld region, from mountainous terrain and forested areas to riverine and wetland systems. These habitats support a wide variety of flora and fauna, including 49 species of fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals.
One of the most iconic and charismatic animals in Kruger National Park is the South African giraffe or Cape giraffe. This subspecies of giraffe is found in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It has a tan coat with rounded or blotched spots, some with star-like extensions running down to the hooves. The spots help the giraffe to camouflage in its savanna habitat. The South African giraffe has a median lump on its forehead that is less developed than the ossicones in males of other subspecies.
The South African giraffe is a herbivorous animal that feeds mainly on leaves, flowers, fruits and shoots of woody plants such as acacia and can consume over 165 pounds per day. It has a complex four-chambered stomach that helps it digest the fibrous plant material.
One of the best ways to enjoy the Greater Kruger ecosystem and see the South African or Cape giraffe in a more secluded, off-the-beaten-path itinerary is with personalized service from some of South Africa’s premier naturalist guides on Nat Hab’s Secluded South Africa safari. On this itinerary, we stay in less visited adjacent parts of the Kruger ecosystem, on unfenced private reserves just outside the park boundaries, where animals are able to freely cross in and out of the national park and reserve.
Conservation Successes, but the Challenge Remains
Giraffe numbers are falling dramatically. Their population has declined 40% in thirty years, down to 117,000 in the wild — less than gorillas and only 25% the number of African elephants. Several giraffe subspecies are vulnerable to extinction due to drought, climate change, human-wildlife conflict, civil unrest, and poaching.
There are remarkable success stories, though, and places where their numbers are increasing, providing hope for giraffes.