Tallest of all mammals, the giraffe attains an overall height of 18 feet (5.5 meters) or more. An unmistakable animal, it has a comparatively short body and very long legs and neck.
Head to shoulder length is approximately 13′ for the male. Shoulder height is 8-12′, overall height 15-19′. Weight is 1,100-2,800 lbs.
The back slopes downward to the hindquarters, and the neck, despite its length, contains only the seven vertebrae typical of most mammals including man.
The tail measures up to one yard with a terminal tuft of stiff, black hair. Males and females have stiff manes on their neck.
Two to four short, skin covered horns are present in both sexes and there is a central swelling, between the eyes, which in northern giraffes is almost as long as the horns.
These bones are present at birth in the form of small knobs of cartilage covered with skin and hair which become bony nodules with age.
They have long prehensile tongues (like hands) that measure 18-21 inches long. The inner part of the tongue is pink in color, and then changes to a purplish-black color for the last 6 inches that are commonly visible.
The coat is pale buff, covered to a greater or lesser extent with reddish-brown spots that range from regular and geometric in some forms to irregular and blotchy, or leaf-shaped, in others. Many subspecies have been described based on coat pattern and the size and number of horns.d
The giraffe feeds primarily on thorny acacia (a-kay-sha) leaves; they also consume twigs and bark. Their prehensile tounges and leathery mouths enable them to gather these treats.
Giraffes do get thirsty, but it is almost difficult for them.
To reach the ground or to drink, it must bend or spread its fore legs very far, looking like they are about to fall. Going for a month without water is also possible as an adaptation to long drought periods in their native areas.
Giraffes have high blood pressure (240/160) for pumping blood to the brain.
The carotid artery that carries blood from the heart to the head is thick, muscular and elastic, ballooning when the giraffe stoops to absorb increase in pressure. When the giraffe raises its head, a series of check valves in the inch-wide jugular vein prevents a sudden back flow from the emptying brain.
Its gait, because of its long stride, is swifter than it appears; about 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour is reached at a gallop.
Giraffes usually sleep standing up for 20 minutes at a time.
Giraffes are non-seasonal breeders, usually producing one precocial calf after a gestation period of 14-15 months.
Birth height is 5½-6′, birth weight is 87-107 lbs. They become sexually mature between 3 and 4 years of age and have a life span of about 25 years (30+ in captivity). Full body size is not reached until age five.
The giraffe has keen sight, smell, and hearing. They may see red-orange, yellow-green, purple, green and blue as colors.
Its main predator, other than the human being, is the lion. Fortunately, when defending itself, the giraffe kicks with its heavy hooves, which are powerful enough to take lion’s head off, and slams with its head. Other predators are leopards (prey on young) and lions.
Giraffes are most vulnerable to predators when drinking or lying down.
Males fight among themselves by swimming their heads at one another, it is quite funny.
Herds are small and loosely constructed of 5-15 individuals, consisting of one bull with females and young. Other bulls are solitary or in pairs.
The voice of the giraffe has so rarely been heard that the animal is popularly supposed to be voiceless.
They may grunt of snort when alarmed, females may whistle to call their young, and calves can bleat.
The giraffe lives in herds in Savanna and open bush country and is native to most of Africa south of the Sahara.
Still numerous in East Africa, where it is protected, the giraffe elsewhere has dwindled in number or has been exterminated because of hunting by man.
Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), is a cud-chewing, hoofed mammal, it forms with the okapi, the family Giraffidae (order Artiodactyla). To the Romans, the giraffe was “camelopardalis,” (“camel marked like a leopard”), a term that survived in English as “camelopard.” The word “giraffe” comes from the Arabic zaràfa. As a verb it means “to jump” or “to hurry,” leading to the noun “one who walks swiftly.”
It has also been traced to an Ethiopia word that denotes “graceful one.” But its primary derivation, in the opinion of linguistic authority, stems from a source meaning “assemblage,” as in assemblage of animals.
The Greeks were more specific: they contributed its scientific name, camelopardalis (or the more common, camelopard), which literally describes a camel’s body wearing a leopard’s coat.
Giraffes are highly selective browsers, feeding primarily on a variety of Acacia and Combretum Trees. Over a hundred different species may be eaten, depending on what is seasonally available. Although mostly leaves and shoots are taken, giraffes also eat flowers, vines and herbs. Giraffe have also been seen to eat weaver-bird nests with young inside, and may chew on bones, perhaps to gain additional minerals.
An average of 16-20 hours per day are spent feeding and up to 140 lbs. of fresh foods are taken. Thorns do not seem to be a deterrent to feeding; the long, prehensile, muscular tongue (which can be extended up to 18 inches), thick, gluey saliva, and special upper palate shape enable the giraffe to process thorny foods. They are ruminants with a 4-chambered stomach, which means they regurgitate their food and chew it again.
Zoo Diet: Alfalfa, ADF16 grain mix, and produce.
- The neck veins contain valves and a network of tiny veins (rete mirabile) to prevent blackouts when it lowers its head to drink. They act temporarily as collecting vessels which compensate for the pressure in the brain.
- The giraffe’s heart can weigh more than 24 pounds.
- The heart pumps approximately 16 gallons per minute.
- The giraffe has twice as many blood corpuscles than we do.
- A corpuscle is a blood cell
- Giraffes reach a deep sleep for 1-12 minutes.
- In deep sleep the neck is bent backward like a handle, the chin touches the ground behind the tarsal joint of the stretched hind leg, and the lower jaw rests on the shank.
- Usually giraffe rest standing up, flicking their ears and keeping one eye open alternately to keep alert. They have got to be ready to run away.
- Giraffe can see miles away, communicating with distant friends.
- When catching a giraffe, for a zoo exhibit or observation, care has to be taken to not chase them too long, because they will have a heart attack, due to their high blood pressure. So the scientists go after the younger, sprightlier giraffes most of the time. Then a blindfold is placed over their eyes, so they are not terrified even more.
- Unknown nomadic males may stimulate serious fighting by exchanging sledgehammer blows using the side of the head.
Rank order fights between two individuals may last for a quarter of an hour or even longer (15 minutes).
- Giraffe males generally live peacefully beside each other after they have determined who is the strongest.
- Giraffe’s tongues are like hands (prehensile), about 24 inches long, and black.
During mating season, the male giraffe nudges the female’s behind to induce urination. He then tastes the urine to see if the female is in heat.
Mothers give birth standing up, so the baby is dropped about six feet to the ground onto their head.
See a giraffe birth at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
The baby giraffes are, on average, 6 feet tall when born, weighing 110-120 pounds.
Offspring begin browsing in their first month and are rarely observed to suckle after they start eating leaves.
- First year calf mortality is about 58%.
- Calves may be taken by hyena, leopards and African wild dogs. But the lion is the main predator.
- Life expectancy is 20-25 years.
- Reticulated Giraffes are characterized by large polygons separated by cream-colored lines rather like a large net thrown over a colored ground, hence the name “reticulated” giraffe. (reticulated means ‘like a net’)
- The word “giraffe” comes from an Arabic word, “zirafah”, which means “the tallest of all”.
Oxpeckers or tick birds will land on a giraffe and search for ticks or insect pests to eat. This helps both the giraffe and the bird.
- In Africa you can still find giraffe meat on some menus.
- Giraffes drink water if it is available but can go weeks without it. Otherwise they rely on the morning dew and the water content of their food. At the water hole, up to 12 gallons may be taken in at once.
From the book
“Tall Blondes – a book about giraffes” by Lynn Sherr
- They are the tallest quadrupeds, reaching eighteen feet or more for males, a dainty sixteen feet for females. And while the bulls (males) can weigh 1.5 tons, the cows (females) are a trim .5 ton. The record for a giraffe shot by a hunter was a nine-teen-foot-three-inch bull from Kenya.
- Their sturdy front legs appear much longer than the rear pair, because their backbone angles down toward the rump. In fact, all four legs are almost the same size, and each lands in a cloven hoof the size of a dinner plate.
- One species of the acacia owes its name to the giraffe, and some seeds germinate only after passing through the giraffe’s digestive track.
- Their only natural enemies are the lion and, on occasion, the hyena and the leopard. Humans – who have killed them in the name of sport, or science, or capitalism (the giraffe’s tail has been used as a flyswatter, its hide for buckets or shields) – are now forbidden by law to hunt them in the wild.
- They are one of the only animals born with horns, which can number up to five and get bonier with age. A short, stiff mane runs the length of their neck.
- Giraffes are not mute. They have vocal chords but rarely use them. They don’t need to. Their monumental size lets them see and communicate readily with their eyes.
- They have no tear ducts but have been seen to cry.
- They have never been seen to bathe.
- A special joint enables the giraffe to raise its head vertically in line with the neck and even a bit farther back, a special feature that makes those out-of-the-way leaves easier to nibble.
Still, for all its span, the giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground. As a result, the animal has to spread its legs precariously or kneel down on padded “knees” (which are really wrists) to take a drink
- For the amble, or slow pace, giraffes move both right legs at once, then both left.
- Child care can be cooperative, in nurseries formed by groups of cows.
- Giraffes mature by their fourth year.
- They can live to be almost thirty years
- People who work with them disagree on how smart the giraffe really is, but one expert noted that “an analysis of its brain formation shows the highest development of nervous center among artiodactyls [cloven-hoofed animals]: the index of its cerebrum is 29.5 compared with 20 in wild cattle and 14 in pigs.”
||Up to 3,000 pounds
||Dense forest to open plains
||Between 14 and 16 months