You probably think you are tall, until you see a baby giraffe which is much much taller than you. The giraffe is the tallest terrestrial mammal in the world, a true beauty amongst the animals that roam the savannahs of Africa. The average height of a giraffe is between 4.3 metres to 5.8 metres with the adult female weighing about 800 kilograms and the male weighing 1,250 kilograms.
This beautiful animal was first referred to as a camel with leopard spots and was once seen as a pet for the rich and influential, even being paraded in the streets of Rome, with some of the giraffes in captivity gaining celebrity status.
Even more interesting is that the giraffe only sleeps for between 10 minutes and two hours a day, and it sleeps while standing! Surprised? Then you should know it also gives birth while standing. Yes a baby giraffe comes into the world by falling a few feet.
There are roughly 91,000 giraffes currently in the world, a number that is seen to indicate the reduction of the giraffe population as a result of various factors such as habitat destruction and poaching.
These social animals do form long-term relationships based on sex and kinship, and the number in a herd can go up to 45 giraffes.
However, when the males grow older, they become solitary and will only associate mainly with females. Since they are not territorial, giraffes will frequently wander away from areas that they usually familiar with.
Traditionally, giraffes were hunted for their meat while their skin was used to make shields, drums and sandals. The tail was used for making bracelets and fly swatters.
This magnificent animal is a true beauty to watch, with various paintings and artefacts made.
Characteristics of the giraffe
The giraffe is a spectacle to watch, from how it walks lazily, its long legs and neck and its unique spots that are unique to each and every giraffe like similar to the fingerprints of every human being.
The scientific name of the giraffe is Giraffa camelopardalis, and they are found from central, eastern and southern Africa, living in the savannahs, grasslands and woodlands preferring the open lands where they find their food.
There were eleven species in existence but seven have since become extinct and now four species left are the Giraffa giraffa, Giraffa tippelskirchi, Giraffa reticulata and Giraffa camelopardalis. They are considered endangered.
Giraffes are social animals, living in herds consisted of either unrelated males or related females and their offspring. In the social groups consisting of males, the males have a hierarchy system which is arrived at through necking.
Necking is a combative behaviour which may be intense or mild. If mild the giraffes simply rub against each other but, if intense, they spread their front legs for stability and swing their necks at each other both trying to hit the other as well as to avoid being hit.
The winner gains a higher hierarchy in the herd as compared to others, and furthermore, the mating rights during the mating season.
The giraffes have horn-like structures that are known as ossicones at the top of their heads and the male giraffe uses these during combat such as necking so as to increase the impact of its blow on rivals.
For female giraffes and young ones the ossicones are thin and have fur, however, for males, it ends in knobs and is bald; therefore this can be an easy way of differentiating the males and females at a glance.
The giraffe’s front legs are the same length as its hind legs, specially developed to support its weight therefore giving the giraffe its postures when moving either by galloping or walking.
Interestingly, when walking, the giraffe moves the legs on one side at the same time, however, well galloping the hind legs move forward, around and past the front legs before the front legs move forward.
Although the giraffe looks lazy due to its walking style, it actually can run at high speeds and can even reach speeds of 60 kilometres per hour, with enough endurance to sustain constant running at a speed of 50 kilometres per hour for several kilometres.
The giraffe not only uses its long legs for running but for defense as well. Very few animals prey on the giraffe due to its incredible height, and will only prey on a giraffe when desperate.
The giraffe can deliver hard kicks to a lion or any other predator that attempts to hunt it; a hard kick that can critically injure a lion, breaking the jaw.
There are various sounds that giraffes use for communication and they will therefore alert each other when a predator is spotted. These sounds include; bellowing, snorts, mewing, bleats and mooing. Moreover they can grunt, hiss and make flute-like sounds.
Although the giraffe is great at adapting to the environment and protecting itself from predators, occasionally they are hunted down by a pride of lions, especially during the dry period when prey is scarce for the lions.
Due to their unique shape and their large size, the giraffe has a huge, specialized heart to ensure proper circulation of blood. The heart is about two feet long.
Furthermore, the veins are specialized to prevent the flow of blood to the head when the giraffe lowers the head to drink water.
The average lifespan of a giraffe is about 25 years.
The Giraffe’s Diet
Living in savannahs and woodlands, the giraffes browse on the trees, preferring acacia trees. These trees are thorny; however giraffes are adapted by having a long tongue, about 45 centimetres long.
The long tongue is able to manoeuvre around the thorns. The height of the giraffe is also advantageous because the giraffe is able to reach the top most parts of the tree where the leaves and thorns are soft and young.
They eat the young leaves and flowers, which provide them with important nutrients such as protein and calcium which are vital for its growth.
Moreover, giraffes also feed on available fruits as well as shrubs and grass, eating about 34 kilograms per day.
Giraffes only need little water due to the fact that their digestive systems are highly efficient, drinking water only once in a few days.
Due to their feeding habit, the giraffes will be spread out during the wet season; however during the dry season they will be concentrated around areas where food and water are available.
Beautiful Giraffe Pictures
The Giraffe’s Reproduction
Giraffes are generally polygamous, with only the dominant males getting the opportunity to mate. The males have a preference for young females as compared to old females and juveniles.
To detect whether a female is in her fertility period, the males will taste her urine and it will have a distinct taste due to the presence of oestrus, this process is known as Flehmen.
Just like human beings, male giraffes will court their targeted females, however during this time they have to keep an eye for other males who may also be targeting the female. The courting process will involve licking of the females’ tails as well as nudging.
After mating, the female giraffe gets pregnant and the pregnancy lasts for a period of 400-460 days, about 15 months. One calf is born, although there are cases when the female giraffe will deliver twins.
The female giraffe gives birth while standing and when the calf falls to the ground after breaking through the membranes. Through this falling, the umbilical cord is cut and the mother cleans the calf by licking it, helping it to stand up.
Normally, the female giraffe will go back to where it was born so as to give birth to its young ones, meaning that some birth sites have been the place of birth for many generations.
Amazingly, newborn calf will stand up within thirty minutes and within a few hours of being born; the calf will be running along with the rest of the herd. This quick ability to stand and run goes a long way to ensure the calf is less susceptible to predators that mainly target the young and weak ones.
To further protect the young calves, the mother giraffe will often stand over her calf when predators are around, throwing kicks in any direction and therefore preventing predators from reaching the calf.
However, when it comes to parenting, the male giraffe is not a great model of fatherhood because it is the female giraffes that take on parenting duties. It is the females that bring up the calves, walking in herds of females and calves known as calve pools, while the males will be in their own herds.
Calves will suckle for a varying period of up to one year and will stay with the mother until the next calf is born. Female giraffes mature when they are 4 years while male mature at 4 to 5 years, but they cannot mate until they became the dominant male in the herd.