Species assignment and conservation genetics of giraffe in the Republic of Malawi

  • Sven WinterEmail author
  • Raphael T. F. Coimbra
  • Anna Bronec
  • Craig Hay
  • Amanda L. Salb
  • Julian Fennessy
  • Axel Janke
Short Communication


Historically, giraffe have been translocated across Africa to supplement extant populations, reintroduce extinct populations or to establish new populations, often for conservation and tourism. Such faunal relocations were often carried out disregarding taxonomic affiliation. Today, the small giraffe populations in the Republic of Malawi are assumed to consist of South African giraffe (Giraffa giraffa giraffa), which have likely descended from five individuals translocated from Imire Game Park (Zimbabwe) to Nyala Game Park (Malawi) in 1993. However, during the last 25 years, unknown additional translocations, migrations or unrecognized local populations of potential Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi) in Malawi may have resulted in introgressive hybridization. Thus, the current taxonomic affiliation for Malawi’s giraffe is uncertain, calling for a genetic assessment to implement further management. We analyzed mitochondrial sequences and nuclear introns for 14 individuals, representing approximately half of the known Malawian population, to genetically determine the (sub)species of giraffe that occur in the Republic of Malawi by comparison with a comprehensive Giraffa dataset. Additionally, we genotyped individuals at ten microsatellite loci to determine the level of inbreeding and potential introgression. All data identify individuals unambiguously as South African giraffe, although two individuals shared a single nuclear allele with Masai giraffe. The low microsatellite genetic variability suggests high inbreeding in the current population. Thus, supplementing Malawi’s giraffe populations with G. g. giraffa will prevent further loss of their genetic diversity and avoid inbreeding depression.


Hybridization Inbreeding Population genetics Southern giraffe Translocation Wildlife management 



This study was supported by the Leibniz Association, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, African Parks Network, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, Nyala Game Park, Game Haven Lodge and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Malawi.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10592_2018_1142_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1793 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research CentreFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Ecology, Evolution and DiversityGoethe UniversityFrankfurt am MainGermany
  3. 3.African ParksJohannesburgSouth Africa
  4. 4.Lilongwe Wildlife TrustLilongweMalawi
  5. 5.Giraffe Conservation FoundationWindhoekNamibia

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