Giraffe Fact File
The giraffe is the world’s tallest land animal. They have a long neck and long legs both of which provide the height needed to reach trees from which they obtain browse.
Their iconic pattern of spots cover the body with the coloration being variable across their range based on diet and other factors. The color may vary between yellow to almost black for the patches with lines which are a yellowish-white in between. These coloration differences are used to divide the giraffe in to multiple subspecies.
Moving down the legs towards the feet their spots fade to become solid white.
Some zoologists have suggested that a giraffe’s coat pattern provides camouflage. Reports exist of people viewing giraffes and thinking they were trees until they began to walk.
On top of the head are 2-4 specialized horns known as the ossicones. These help to protect the head during fights. Males have bald top on there ossicones while the females have a small tuft of fur.
At the end of the body is a long tail which ends with a tuft of black fur. This can measure between 78 and 100cm (31-39in) long. This tail will be used to flick away flies.
Their tongue is a bluey-grey colour. It is believed that this protects it from getting sunburnt while they are feeding. Their eyes are the size of a golfball.
Male giraffe are larger than females. They may stand up to 5.5m (18ft) tall and weigh up to 1,360kg (2,998lbs). Female giraffes can be up to 4.3m (14ft) tall and weigh up to 680kg (1,500lbs).
Giraffes are herbivores with their diet made up mostly of leaves which they browse off of trees. Other foods consumed by them include shoots, fruit, other vegetation and wild apricot. Up to 93 different leaves are part of their diet.
Between 16 and 20 hours of their day are spent feeding. They can survive on as little as 7kg (15lbs) of food each day.
Their upper lip is prehensile and they have a long tongue which are used to grab the leaves off of a trees. They are able to eat from thorny acacia trees without injuring themselves.
Much of the giraffes water needs can be meet by the browse which they eat. When they do drink they have specialized valves which help prevent issues caused by the high blood pressure needed to push blood to the brain when standing.
Average 10-15 years
Record 30 years
— AD —
Africa is the native home of the giraffe. Here they can be found in Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The species has gone extinct in Eritrea, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal. They are thought to be extinct in Mali. They were previously extinct in Eswatini and Rwanda but they have since gone extinct here.
Giraffes make their home in much of the east and south of sub-Saharan Africa. They are mostly found in savanna and woodland habitats.
Most giraffe births occur in the dry season from May to August with breeding having occurred in the previous rainy season.
Males approach the female during the breeding season and curl their lip in a flehmen response which is used to determine if she is ready to mate.
Giraffes have a 14 month gestation period. Typically only a single calf is born but twins are possible.
At birth the calf already stands 2m (6.6ft) tall . The mother will give birth standing up and the calf drops to the ground. When they hit the ground it causes them to take their first breaths.
Within an hour the calf is standing and moving with the herd. They have their first taste of vegetation within a week of their birth.
They will wean off of milk between six and nine months old.
Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 4 years old for females and 4 and 5 years old for males. Males are typically not able to compete for breeding rights successfully till 7 years old.
Giraffes only need to sleep for between 5 and 30 minutes in a day. This is generally achieved through short bursts of 1 to 2 minutes. They sleep standing up or lying on the ground with their head on their rump.
Male giraffes may participate in a process known as necking as a means of establishing dominance. They swing their necks towards each other and the one which remains standing is the winner and wins mating rights for that area.
Noises made by the giraffe include moos, roars, whistles and hisses.
Giraffes roam in herds of up to 15 members on average but herds up to 70 have been observed. Their group is known as a tower.
Males fight to establish dominance. They will stand next to one another and swing their heads at the opponents side. A strong enough blow may knock their opponent over or injure them.
Predators and Threats
Giraffes face predation from lions, leopards, hyenas and crocodiles. Most of the individuals which fall prey to predators are calves and these may take as many as 3/4 of all calves.
They are at their most vulnerable when resting. During these times a member of the herd will stand watch ready to alert the herd if a predator approaches.
Humans affect the population of giraffes through habitat loss and degradation, conversion of their habitat for other uses, civil unrest, illegal hunting. Hunting takes place both for meat and trophies. In some areas hunting is legal and regulated.
In some areas of Africa the tail of a giraffe is viewed as a good-luck charm and they may be hunted for these which are turned in to bracelets and fly whisks.
Giraffe have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as humans. Their seven vertebrae are longer than they are in humans.
A giraffe’s foot are about the size of a dinner plate (about 30cm (12in) across).
The highest recorded running speed of a giraffe is about 56kph (34.7mph).
Giraffes were for a long time known as camel leopards. This led to their species name being Camelopardalis.
Currently the tallest living giraffe alive today is Forrest at Australia Zoo. He stands 5.7 meters (18 feet, 8 inches).
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