Giraffe

Standing tall

The giraffe is the tallest terrestrial mammal in the world. The males stand about 5m tall - as high as a single-story house - and the females are just a little shorter.
The giraffe has an incredibly long neck and legs, high shoulders and a sloping back. The tapering head has 2-5 short horns. A giraffe's horns are covered with skin and are biggest on the males. They are often used as defence weapons. The giraffe has hairy lips and large eyes, always alert for enemies. Its pale buff coat is blotched with brown patches.

The giraffe has a massive heart which pumps at a pressure 2 or 3 times that of a healthy man to push blood up its long neck.

A giraffe weighs over 1000 kg and has a life span of about 20-30 years.

Being tall has its problems...
Giraffes sometimes lie down with their legs are folded under the body. But standing up is quite a task! To rise, the forelegs are first half unfolded with the neck swung back to take the weight off the forelegs. The neck is swung forward again, this time to take the weight off the hind legs. By repeating this movement, the animal finally gets to its feet. Since getting up is so awkward, the giraffe mostly sleeps standing.
Giraffe life-span. / ©: WWF
Giraffe life-span.
© WWF
Giraffe height. / ©: WWF
Giraffe height.
© WWF
...and advantages?
The giraffe's long neck enables it to browse on the leaves of trees. Thus, it does not need to compete with other leaf-eaters feeding lower down. A male giraffe stretches high up into a tree for food, while the female feeds at shoulder height. Giraffes eat leaves of many kinds of trees, but acacia trees are their favourites.

They also eat seed pods, flowers and fruits using their mobile lips and tongue to pluck them from the trees. The tongue can be stretched almost 45 cm to gather food. The canine teeth, shaped like a comb, are used to strip leaves from a branch. Giraffes can chew on thorny acacia twigs, and have also been seen chewing bones! They drink water only when it is readily available and can go for long periods without it.

There are 8 subspecies of giraffes found in the dry savanna and semi-desert regions of Africa, from Sudan to Somalia and westwards to northern Nigeria.
Giraffe's Food Habits. / ©: WWF
Giraffe's Food Habits.
© WWF
Coping with danger
Giraffes walk slowly unless disturbed. When a giraffe senses danger, it can flee quickly on its long legs. A giraffe can gallop at 50kph with its neck rocking rhythmically to pull its weight forwards. The only time a giraffe is really vulnerable to its one natural enemy, the lion, is when it is drinking. With its forelegs spread apart and neck lowered, the giraffe is positioned awkwardly. This is the moment a lion might attack.

Raising young
Giraffes are gentle and timid animals and live in loose social groups. Male giraffes often stay alone, joining the females only to mate. The strongest adult bull mates with the females in an area.

A single calf is born after a pregnancy of 16 months. The newborn is able to walk within an hour after birth.
Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) and giraffe at a waterhole, Namibia.  / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) and giraffe at a waterhole, Namibia.
© WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Giraffe Map. / ©: WWF
Giraffe Map.
© WWF
Conservation concern
Giraffes are still quite common in some places, but have almost disappeared from many areas where they once occurred, for example in northern Uganda, western Kenya and north-east Africa. They are killed for their skins and meat.

Giraffe facts

  • The maned neck is the longest of any animal, but it still has only 7 neck bones, as in other mammals.
  • The giraffe’s long front legs are surprisingly sturdy. They are sometimes used in defence and one kick has been known to kill a lion!
  • Baby giraffes are born 6 feet tall (1.8m) - taller than the average person. They can grow an inch a day and just about double their height in 1 year.

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