The year was AD 46 in Ancient Rome. Julius Caesar had just returned to Europe from his exploits in Egypt. Among his spoils from Alexandria accompanied an animal so bizarre to the onlookers of the ancient world that they called it the cameleopard, for it seemed to be the embodiment of both a camel and a leopard. In that historic moment Julius Caesar introduced the giraffe to Europe… or is that reintroduced the giraffe to Europe?
Not much is known today of the ancient world, and even less is written outside the realm of the academic community. But there was a time when Europe was an untamed wilderness, and Asia had not yet produced the intricate civilisations of India and China. This was a time marked by a diversity of megafauna. This was a time when giraffe roamed not only in Africa, but across the Middle East and into parts of Europe and Asia!
For a long time the modern giraffe in Africa was considered as a single wide-ranging species across the continent until recent genetic analysis divided the African giraffe into four distinct species, namely Giraffa giraffa (southern giraffe), Giraffa tippelskirchi (Masai giraffe), Giraffa reticulata (reticulated giraffe), and Giraffa camelopardalis (northern giraffe). During historic times the northern giraffe ranged widely across the Sahara to the Mediterranean coast and via the Sinai Peninsula across much of the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Throughout the Middle East giraffe remains have been associated with the thorny Acacia trees, but also into the more mesic oak and pine woodlands of the Turkey.
During ancient times before man had settled all the habitable land masses even more closely related species of giraffe ranged widely across the continents of Europe and Asia. Giraffa attica (also known as Bohlinia attica), a giraffe almost identical to modern giraffes in size, dentition and horn-like ossicones, occurred widely across the oak and pine woodlands of Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria in Europe and also across the woodlands and forests of India and China. Two additional large species of giraffe occurred across the woodlands and savannas of Pakistan and India in the form of Giraffa sivalensis (Siwalik giraffe) and Giraffa punjabiensis (Punjab giraffe). Their demise from Europe and Asia has been largely attributed to climate change and the inability to reclaim their former range due to rising human civilisations that effectively blocked the suitable routes. The Middle Eastern giraffe suffered a different fate as their demise was more directly linked with the activity of human settlement and hunting.
…After being put on display as a spectacle and a curiosity, Caesar thought it best that only a famous death would do for his long-necked novelty. On a fateful day his giraffe was released into the arena of a great amphitheatre where it was devoured by famished lions, and as it breathed its last breath it did so to the great applause of the observing citizens of Rome.
Today the remaining four giraffe species are fast becoming endangered species as their range across the continent of Africa is ever becoming marginalised by poaching, desertification, and ever-increasing human settlements. Yet there is still hope as many populations become re-established on their former range across private nature reserves and parks, from the southern point of Africa to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. May giraffe again one day roam across the woodlands and savannas of India? Only time will tell!