Scientifically known as Giraffa Camelopardalis thornicrotti, the Rhodesian giraffes are sub-species of giraffes you are likely to encounter during African safaris. They are sometimes considered Luangwa giraffes because they are geographically isolated to a few places in Africa including Zambia’s south Luangwa Valley.
Surprisingly, only around 550 of them are estimated to live in the wild and there are no captive populations recorded. They belong to the Giraffa genus and Giraffidae family thus one of the reasons you can afford missing them during African safaris.
The Rhodesian giraffes (also known as the Thornicroft’s giraffes) always inhabit the arid and dry-savannah regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, as long as there are tall trees, which are their main source of food. These mammals are endemic to Zambia and are herd animals with exceedingly flexible social system.
Interestingly, the Okapi are said to be close relatives of these giraffes making up the Giraffidae family. A group of giraffes is referred as a “tower of giraffes”.
Their lifespan is always 22 years for males and 28 years for their female counterparts, and there are no Rhodesian giraffes in captivity. However, their ecotype was originally named after Harry Scott Thornicroft, a Commissioner in what was then known as North-western Rhodesia and later North Rhodesia.
Just like other giraffes, the Rhodesia giraffes are generally browsers that mainly feed on shoots of trees and shrubs as well as leaves but also consume deciduous plants in the wet season and change to evergreen and semi-evergreen species during the dry season. However, they sometimes choose pods, fruits and flowers when available. You will however notice that these mammals always look for acacia species when browsing and their feeding often contribute to shoot production of the tree species they feed on.
These animals are real ruminants with four chambers and their food intake is about 2.1% of body mass for females and 1.6% for males. They always get water from the foliage they eat but also drink water regularly when available. Can you imagine that a giraffe’s heart weighs around 10 kilograms?
These giraffes are tall with extremely long necks but also feature long and dark-colored tongues with skin-colored horns. They also have typical coat patterns with regional differences varying among several sub-species.
The patterns always consist of large, uneven-shaped brown to black spots separated by white to yellow bands. The males’ coats normally darken with age, especially the patches although this darkening of their coats have not been studied widely enough to show complete age but instead help to estimate the relative age of the male Rhodesian giraffes.
These giraffes reach sexual maturity at around 6 years and breed throughout the year. They produce after every 22 months (677 days) but around half of the calves normally die before their first birthday because of predation. Interestingly, the Rhodesian giraffes can become pregnant when still lactating, something that is very unusual.
Just like human fingerprints, each giraffe has unique coat pattern that is used to identify and distinguish different individuals as well as sub-species.