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Giraffes (Giraffa spp.) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat



  • 10,000 years ago: present throughout Africa
  • Giraffes disappeared from northern and Saharan Africa as northern Africa became drier and eventually turned into desert.
  • 4,000 years ago: disappeared from Egypt
  • 1,400 years ago: disappeared from Morocco


  • Patchy, non-continuous distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa (Toon and Toon 2004; Wilson and Mittermeier 2011)
  • Roughly 70% of giraffes occur outside government-managed protected areas (O'Connor et al. 2019)



  • Dry savannahs biomes (e.g., Wilson and Mittermeier 2011, Bercovitch and Berry 2014)
    • Scrubland and dense, thicketed areas
    • Woodland
    • Open grassland with few or no trees, bushes, or shrubs
  • Also (Bercovitch and Berry 2009a, 2014; David O'Connor, personal communication)
    • Riverine habitat
    • Some semi-desert and desert habitat (e.g., Namibia)
    • Some presence in mesic forests
  • Closely associated with Acacia and deciduous woodland tree species (e.g., Parker and Bernard 2005, Brenneman et al. 2009, Wilson and Mittermeier 2011)
  • Sex differences in habitat use of solitary individuals (Bercovitch and Berry 2009a)
  • Do not occur on mountains or in tropical rain forests (unlike okapi) (Wilson and Mittermeier 2011)
  • There is debate as to whether or not giraffe can swim (Dagg 2014)
    • If they can't swim, their distribution is restrained due to their inability to cross perennial rivers (Mitchell 2009).

Distribution of Giraffes

Giraffe distribution map

Giraffes have a patchy distribution across sub-Saharan Africa.

The majority live outside government-managed protected areas. See Figure 1 of O'Connor et al. 2019 for detailed distribution ranges.

Adapted from according to IUCN fact sheet.

Page Citations

Bercovitch and Berry (2009a)
Bercovitch and Berry (2014)
Brenneman et al. (2009)
Dagg (2014)
Mitchell (2009)
Parker and Bernard (2005)
Toon and Toon (2004)
Wilson and Mittermeier (2011)

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