The origins of the scientific study and classification of giraffes

Author(s)G. Mitchell FRSSAf
Year Published2009
JournalTransactions of the Royal Society of South Africa
Page Numbers1-13
Size806.50 KB

Giraffes have been known for many thousands of years from rock art and Egyptian artefacts, displayed by Roman emperors at games and triumphs between 46BC and AD274, and briefly exhibited in the zoos of the Italian City States in the 15th Century, yet they remained in the realm of mythology until, in 1764, Ryk Tulbagh, Governor of the Cape Colony, sent a skin and a drawing of a giraffe to Holland. This was the first evidence of their existence to reach Europe for 280 years. Philip Carteret took a copy of the drawing to England in 1769 where it was published by the Royal Society of London, and this drawing became the image that entered the encyclopaedias of natural history emerging at that time. In 1780, more skins, drawings, skeletons and notes were sent to Holland by Robert Jacob Gordon, and were taken to England by William Paterson. Other specimens were sent to France by Francois LeVaillant, and to England by William Burchell. The specimens sent to England were largely ignored. Those sent to Europe were studied by Arnout Vosmaer and Jean Allamand in Holland and by the Comte de Buffon and Etienne Geoffroy-St Hilaire in France. Recognition of the unique taxonomic position of giraffes was the significant outcome of these studies. The specimens prompted the import of living giraffes and the first of these was sent to France in 1826 and to England in 1827. Two publications on giraffe anatomy and reproduction by Richard Owen, first Director of the British Natural History Museum, put the study of giraffe biology on a sound scientific basis, and initiated the more detailed study of giraffes which has lasted nearly 200 years.

Keywords: Giraffe, Southern Africa, Classification, Species, Subspecies

Author: G. Mitchell FRSSAf

Journal: Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa

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