The past distribution of giraffe in KwaZulu-Natal

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Journal Title

South African Journal of Wildlife Research

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Southern African Wildlife Management Association


University of Cape Town

Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) are thought to be introduced aliens in KwaZulu-Natal, an area in which they flourish today. This perception was based on the lack of reference to sightings of giraffe in early colonial literature and the lack of giraffe remains in archaeological sites within KwaZulu-Natal. We have reviewed the literature and found no reliable reference to giraffe in early colonial writings and no reports of rock art featuring giraffe in the area. However, there are recent reports of the recovery of giraffe bones from the Middle Stone Age deposits at Sibudu Shelter, the Holocene hunter-gatherer deposits at Maqonqo Shelter and from the Early Iron Age agriculturist site of KwaGandaganda, all within KwaZulu-Natal. We argue that giraffe were present 1000 BP (date of most recent excavation evidencing giraffe remains), but had died out or been extirpated by c.220 BP (date of written accounts). The demise of giraffe between 1000 and 220 BP may be linked to disease, climate change or anthropogenic causes. The finding of giraffe remains within KwaZulu-Natal raises the possibility that they should be considered as native to the area.