Ancient Romans and Greeks thought the giraffe was a mix between a camel and a leopard - thus the scientific name camelopardalis.
A pair of French biologists wrote in the late 18th century that the giraffe was “magnificent in appearance, bizarre in form, unique in gait, colossal in height and inoffensive in character.”
The giraffe is a member of the giraffidae family. The only other animal in this family is the okapi. With large, irregular brownish to black spots and yellow fur and a very long neck, the giraffe is indeed bizarre in form. The giraffe is the tallest living animal. A long neck consisting of seven vertebrae enable the giraffe to reach trees and shrubs that are out of reach of other animals. Their long 18" tongue and their ability to extend their head vertically gives them an even longer reach above their towering height. This gives the giraffe an advantage when it comes to survival.
- Long neck with seven vertabrae
- Four legs with the front legs being taller than the back legs
- Narrow muzzle
- Long 18" tongue
- Tail approx. 8 feet long
- Adult male average weight 2,630 lbs, females average 1830 lbs
- 14' to 17' tall
- Largest eyes of land mammals
Males are called bulls and females are called cows.
Africa, south of the Sahara.
Habitat and Diet
The habitat of the giraffe is dry savannah, grasslands or open woodlands. They will move into wooded areas with denser vegetation in search of food. Acacia is the main component in the giraffes’ diet. They occasionally eat grasses, and fruit on trees, but Acacia and Combretum trees are their favorite. Giraffes need about 75lbs of leaves per day to maintain their body weight. This requires that they spend at least 12 hours a day grazing or browsing for food. The trees the giraffe eat are often far apart and their herds tend to wander in a loose formation when foraging.
The giraffe lives in very dry areas and will drink large quantities of water when they can to survive. They tend to drink water every couple of days and consume an average of 10 gallons on days that they drink. They also obtain water through their diet of Acacia leaves and foilage, enabling them to survive longer in dry areas where water is sometimes scarce.
The only viable predator an adult giraffe has is the lion. Giraffes have very powerful legs and they use their legs to defend themselves. A strategic kick by a giraffe to the skull of a lion can kill it. Young giraffes have more predators due to their smaller size. Lions, hyenas and leopards often prey on giraffe calves. Approximately one fourth of all giraffe calves survive their first year of life.
Behavior & Reproduction
The giraffe is not a territorial creature. They live in herds that are open with no obvious leader. The social behavior of giraffes is very informal and the individuals in the herds are often changing. Their need to spend a large portion of their day foraging for food makes them more independent than most herd animals.
Females tend to associate with other females when they have calf groups. The calves will move and play with each other, forming durable peer groups. The advantage of the mother-calf groups is substantial protection from predators for the young. Males will stay with their maternal herd until around the age of 3, when they may move to another herd consisting of bachelors. Sexual maturity occurs around the age of 3 or 4, though males seldom successfully breed until the age 8 or older.
Males start competing to mate at the age of 7. Older bulls rarely fight about mating rights as their rank is established in the herd. Males may build dominance over other males by “necking”, a process of rubbing and entwining their necks and throwing their heavy heads at one another. This behavior is described as having a rhythmical grace due to the great length of the giraffes' necks. Though blows can be heard from quite a distance, rarely is a giraffe injured this way. The males have regular contests to prove their strength and rank. When males are part of the bachelor herd they often fight using their horns, neck and heads. The stronger bull wins and achieves higher rank in the herd.
A cow can conceive when she is 4 years old. Gestation ranges from 14 to 14.5 months. There is usually a break of about 1 to 1.5 years between calves. A cow returns to the same area each time she gives birth to a calf. The newborn calf lies out for a good part of the day and most of the night during the first 5 to 7 days. The cow guards her calf, protecting it from predators. The cow stays close to her calf, but will leave it in a créche, a group of young calves guarded by one or more cows, when she needs to find water or forage for food.
Calves are approximately 6' tall when born and they can grow as much as 1' per day. When the calves reach 2 months of age they are eating leaves, and they near independence by 6 months of age. The typical lifespan of a giraffe is approximately 20 to 25 years.
Giraffes are normally silent and don’t make much vocal noise. The calves make a bleat sound and mewing call, the cows will call their young with a bellowing sound and the bulls may cough to send out a message to other giraffes. Some have made whistling sounds, but for the most part these giants are silent.
A giraffe has two gaits: walking and galloping. When walking the right legs move together and the left legs together. When galloping, the giraffe uses its front legs together and its back legs together. The walk has an ambling rhythm with the neck working in synchronicity to keep the body in balance.
- Tallest male giraffe measured stood 20' tall.
- When being pursued the giraffe can reach speeds up to 35 mph.
- The giraffe has only 7 vertebrae, the same as man, yet their necks are significantly longer.
- To drink, the giraffe has to bend its front legs or straddle them
- A giraffe’s heart is 24 lbs and approx. 2' in length
- Average live span is 20 - 25 years
- The average sleep time for a giraffe is 5 to 30 minutes per day
- A giraffe’s age can be told from the darkness of its spots
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