Conservation Genomics of Two Threatened Subspecies of Northern Giraffe: The West African and the Kordofan Giraffe

Three of the four species of giraffe are threatened, particularly the northern giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), which collectively have the smallest known wild population estimates. Among the three subspecies of the northern giraffe, the West African giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta) had declined to 49 individuals by 1996 and only recovered due to conservation efforts undertaken in the past 25 years, while the Kordofan giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum) remains at <2300 individuals distributed in small, isolated populations over a large geographical range in Central Africa. These combined factors could lead to genetically depauperated populations. We analyzed 119 mitochondrial sequences and 26 whole genomes of northern giraffe individuals to investigate their population structure and assess the recent demographic history and current genomic diversity of West African and Kordofan giraffe. Phylogenetic and population structure analyses separate the three subspecies of northern giraffe and suggest genetic differentiation between populations from eastern and western areas of the Kordofan giraffe’s range. Both West African and Kordofan giraffe show a gradual decline in effective population size over the last 10 ka and have moderate genome-wide heterozygosity compared to other giraffe species. Recent inbreeding levels are higher in the West African giraffe and in Kordofan giraffe from Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. Although numbers for both West African and some populations of Kordofan giraffe have increased in recent years, the threat of habitat loss, climate change impacts, and illegal hunting persists. Thus, future conservation actions should consider close genetic monitoring of populations to detect and, where practical, counteract negative trends that might develop.

Publish DateJanuary 26, 2022
Last UpdatedJanuary 26, 2022
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