Here's a quick look at how the new giraffe scorecard should look, Janke and his team suggest:
Giraffa camelopardalis (a.k.a., the Northern giraffe) remains its own species, with three distinct subspecies: the Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), the West African giraffe (G. c. peralta) and the Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum)
The new Southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa) becomes its own species, with two subspecies beneath it: the Angolan giraffe (G. g. angolensis) and the South African giraffe (G. g. giraffa).
The Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi) becomes a distinct species.
The Reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) also is a new species.
The former subspecies Rothschild's giraffe (G. c. rothschildi) "disappears" in the Nubian giraffe subspecies, as the Rothschild's and the Nubian turned out to be genetic matches. Former subspecies the Thornicroft's giraffe (G. c. thornicrofti), meanwhile, appeared the same as the Masai giraffe (G. c. tippelskirchi).
RELATED: Thought to Be Quiet, Giraffes Hum at Night
Serious conservation issues lie behind the taxonomic reshuffling, the researchers say. While giraffes are presently rated a species of "Least Concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "red list" of threatened species, with an estimated population of more than 100,000 in the wild, paring the animal into four genetically distinct species and several subspecies means some animals may now be in serious trouble.
"In particular, GCF estimates that there are may be as few as 400 West African giraffe remaining in the wild and restricted to a small communal area in Niger," said Janke. "Although it is not a distinct species, this subspecies is genetically unique and requires increased special protection along with the other distinct species."
""Now that we know that there are four giraffe species, it is even more important and urgent to support governments and other partners across Africa to protect giraffe," added lead author of the study and GCF co-director Jullian Fennessy. "We rightly worry about the fate of the African elephant, with an estimated 450,000 in the wild. By contrast, the numbers of three of the four giraffe species are rapidly declining, and two numbering fewer than 10,000 individuals in total."