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Giraffes of Africa

Giraffe close-up profile
Female giraffe.
Standing at an average height of 5 metres, giraffes (giraffa camelopardalis) are the tallest land animal in the world with legs alone that are taller than many people and feet that reach 30.5 cm in diameter. Despite their extraordinary height, giraffes like most mammals, have only seven vertebrae in their necks that weigh a heavy 270kg. These mostly peaceful and non-territorial mammals have excellent sight, hearing and smell. Giraffes, that live up to 25 years in the wild, are classed as one of nine subspecies which are differentiated depending on the areas they live, and the pattern and colouring of their coats.

Living in savanna areas throughout parts of sub-Saharan Africa, giraffes have light and dark coloured spotted coats that act as excellent camouflage in their surroundings using shadows and sunlight. Beneath their patches are a system of large and finer veins that play a role in thermal regulation. Each of their lungs can hold 55 of air and their hearts beat 170 beats every minute and can pump a bathtub full of blood every three minutes. Males are taller and heavier with elder males usually darker in colour than their female counterparts and both sexes have ossicones situated on top of their heads. Females have a cluster of fur on top of their ossicones while males are left bald because of fighting with other males by swinging their necks at each other as a display of strength.
Giraffe standing full-length, knees slightly bent.
A giraffe standing. 

Giraffes have a unique walk that involves moving both legs on one side of their bodyfollowed by the opposite side. However, they run like any other mammal by swinging their rear and front legs in synchronisation and are able to reach speeds up to 55km/h at short bursts. They sleep for no longer than 5 minutes with their feet tucked under them and their head resting on their rear legs but are also known for taking short naps while standing or rest while lying down with their head and neck upright.  

They are the largest ruminant on earth, meaning they obtain nourishment from plant based food by fermenting their food in a specially adapted stomach, and then regurgitate their food before chewing the curd. Due to their impressive height, they are able to eat leaves and shoots from tall trees and take notable delight in eating acacia tree leaves. Using their dark blue tongues, that reach up to 45cm in length and are specially adapted for foraging on thorny trees, they spend up to 20 hours a day eating up to 34kg of leaves and twigs. Drinking water puts them at their most vulnerable to predators, as they have to spread their legs or bend their forelegs to reach the ground in order to quench their thirst. Luckily they only need to drink once every few days.
Two Giraffes entangled
Entangled giraffes.

Females form small herd of between 4 to 25 members, with males seldom in their groups unless still be cared for by their mothers. When young males are capable of taking care of themselves they form bachelor herds where they play and interact with one another in order to figure out who the strongest and thus the most dominant member of the herd, while older males tend to be loners. Originally believed to be silent animals, giraffes make low growling, bellows, snorts, hissing and flute-like sounds as well as low pitch noises that cannot been heard by humans as a means to communicate with one another.

Both sexes reach sexual maturity between four to five years of age and are fully grown by seven. There is no set mating season for giraffes but there is an increase in mating during the rainy season. Males will taste the urine of females so as to know which ones are in oestrus and are then able to determine which ones are ready for mating. Males will then attempt courting rituals that involve resting their chin of the back of a female. Female giraffes carry their young for 15 months and then give birth to a single calf, who has their two ossicones, while standing up. Giraffe mothers are extremely protective of their calf that is kept hidden for the first 3 weeks of its’ life and will defend their calf against predators. Nursery groups are formed for calves to play and rest while females take turns in keeping a watchful eye on them while the others forage. 

Did you know? 

  • Newborns are 1.5m from birth and continue to grow a further 0.5cm each day. 
  • Giraffes cannot throw up.
  • Giraffes are known to slip on paved roads in KNP. 
  • These mammals have special valves in their neck arteries to regulate blood pressure and flow so they do not faint when lowering their heads to drink.
  • They seldom spend more than 5 minutes at a tree when foraging to avoid becoming an easy target for predators.

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