giraffeScientific Name:              Giraffa Camelopardalis

Conservation Status:      Least Concern

Appearance

The coat of the giraffe can vary from light tan to nearly black. The differences in colour happen because of what the giraffes eat and where they live. They usually have a square shaped pattern which looks a bit like they have been covered by a net. Giraffes also have two hair covered horns on the top of their heads. They also have a small hump on their back, and because they have a pattern similar to a leopard for a long time they were known as a “camel-leopard” and that is where their scientific name comes from. Each giraffe has its own unique coat pattern just like humans have different fingerprint patterns.

Some zoologists have suggested that a giraffe’s coat pattern provides camouflage. Some people viewing giraffes have reported thinking they were trees till they walked away.

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 giraffes can be up to 5.5 metres tall and weigh up to 1,360 kilograms. Female giraffes can be up to 4.3 metres tall and weigh up to 680 kilograms. A giraffe’s neck and legs are about 1.8 long and their neck weighs about 272 kilograms.

Lifespan

The lifespan of the giraffe in the wild is about 15 to 20 years, but in captivity the normal lifespan is approximately 25 to 30 years.

Diet

The giraffe’s diet consists of leaves, shoots, flowers, fruits, some herbs and their favourite leaves are from the acacia tree. Giraffes can eat up to 34 kilograms of leaves each day, they spend a lot of their day eating because they only get a few leaves at a time. The giraffes use their long (46cms) tongues to get around the thorns that are on the acacia trees. Their tongue is a dark blue-black colour which gives them natural sun protection as their tongue is out for a long time each day. The acacia leaves contain a lot of water so giraffes can go quite a long time without drinking, this is good as it is quite hard for them to bend their neck all the way down to drink out of a waterhole.

The giraffe is a ruminant which means that they have four compartments in their stomach which digests the leaves that they eat. After they have eaten the leaves for the first time, they come back up from the stomach in a ball up into the mouth so that they can be ground up more, this is known as chewing their cud and this is what giraffes do when they are not eating.

While feeding pollen attaches to a giraffes mouth. As they go on to eat at another tree the pollen is rubbed off.

Habitat

The giraffe lives in Savannah in large herds. The giraffe is native to Africa, most specifically in the southernmost part of the Sahara. The giraffe likes dry, open woodlands to live in, as the acacia trees are usually readily available here. If there has not been much rainfall in the area it is common to find the giraffe herds hanging around rivers and waterholes during the day.

giraffeReproduction

Giraffes have their young standing up which means that the calf has a fall of about 1.5 metres before they touch the ground. It takes about 3 hours for the calf to be born and the gestation period for the giraffe is about 15 months. After they are born they can usually stand up and walk after about an hour, they do not get hurt from falling during the birth. They are born with two skin coloured horns but these lie flat on their head, and then they stick upright after a few weeks. The newborn giraffe drinks its mothers milk for approximately nine months after they are born, but they can start eating leaves at about four months. When the calves get older they are sometimes left in a “nursery”, which means one of the mothers stays and watches all of the young giraffes while the others are out eating.

Behaviour

Only crocodiles, lions and humans prey upon the giraffe. Crocodiles are able to bite them on the neck while they drink at a waterhole. To help avoid this sentries look out for the giraffes which are drinking. Spotted hyenas, leopards and hunting dogs may hunt calves.

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.

Quick Facts

Did you know that giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as what humans do, it is just that the 7 vertebrae are much larger in the giraffe.

A giraffe’s foot are about the size of a dinner plate (about 30 centimetres across).

The highest recorded running speed of a giraffe is about 56 kilometres per hour.

Giraffes were for a long time known as camel leopards. This led to their species name being Camelopardalis.