KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Artiodactyla (Even-toed Ungulates)
FAMILY: Giraffidae (Giraffes and Okapis)
SUB-FAMILY: Giraffinae (Giraffes)
GENUS: Giraffa (Giraffes)
SPECIES: Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe)
The remaining Giraffe populations are restricted to parts of sub-Saharan Africa with the largest concentrations being found in National Parks.
Giraffes have enlongated legs and an enlongated neck. The coat is spotted and the pattern varies from sub-species to sub-species. The back slopes steeply from the shoulders to the rump. Giraffes have horns made of bone and covered with fur (called ossicones) on their heads. The eyes are very large and the tongue is 45cm long. The tail is thin with a tuft of black hair at the end.
Giraffes prefer open woodland and savannah habitats. These habitats give them the advantage of being able to see for great distances around them to watch out for approaching danger.
Giraffes are herbivores (plant-eaters). They will eat twigs, shrubs, grass, leaves, flowers, seed pods, and fruits. Giraffes have four-chambered stomachs and regurgitate their food to rechew it. Giraffes browse by taking the branches in their mouths and pulling away the head to tear away the leaves.
Giraffes can usually be found in loose herds of about 10 individuals, in which members freely come and go. These herds are mostly comprised of females and their young, with female giraffes being more social than males. Giraffes are nomadic and non-territorial, with home ranges up to 650 square km.
Giraffes are polygymous (males having more than one female as a mate at one time). Older males usually mate with the fertile females. Male giraffes will taste the urine of females to see if they are in heat. Courtship rituals include resting the male’s chin on the female’s back, licking her tail, and nudging her with his head.
After a gestation period of about 15 months, a single calf is born. Twins are rare, but do occur. Giraffes give birth standing up and the calf falls 2m to the ground. Calves will start suckling within 15 minutes of being born, and will be weaned at about 12-16 months old. Calves will become independent at about 15 months. Sexual maturity is reached at about 4 years of age. Females will generally stay with their natal herd, whilst males generally become solitary until they can get their own herd. They can live up to about 27 years old!
Giraffes are mainly preyed upon by leopards, lions, crocodiles and hyenas. Calves have a high mortality rate with only 25% of all calves reaching adulthood.
Giraffes are hunted and poached for their skin, meat, and tail. Habitat loss is also a threat.
Did you know?
- Giraffes like Acacia leaves and these trees have thorns but giraffe molars crush the thorns
- A giraffe’s heart weighs about 11 kg — it has to be that big to pump blood all the way to its brain
- It is believed that most giraffe communication takes place at tones that are much lower than what humans can hear
- A giraffe’s spots are like a fingerprint, unique to each individual
- The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world, with even new-born babies being taller than most humans