Giraffe Fact file

Giraffe herd, fairly certain this is on the land at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre when I went back to visit.

Giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable (as checked July 2020)

Size: Male – around 4.6-5.7m tall, with an average weight of 970-1400kg. Females are usually less than 5m tall, and have an average weight of 700-950kg.

Identification: easy to identify, cannot be confused with anything else. Tallest living land mammal, with long necks and legs, and pattern covering whole body.

Giraffe tracks are easily identifiable and are not easily confused with other animals. The largest males can leave tracks the size of dinner plates.

Females vs Males: you are able to identify males or females by looking closely at their faces. Males will have thick ossicones, which are sometimes missing hair at the top, while females will have thinner ossicones. The ossicones are the horn-like protrusions at the top of the head. Males will also sometimes be darker than females, however, some females have been found to be dark, so the colouration is not always reliable. The males are usually larger when fully grown.

Male giraffe from the Kruger National Park. Look at his ossicones and how thick they are. They are also bald on the top, which is due to necking.

Breeding and gestation: the gestation of giraffes is 457 days (longest of any ruminant), and they will only give birth to a single calf. Calves weigh around 100kg at birth, with a shoulder height of around 1.5m. A giraffe gives birth stood up, meaning that the calf will fall about 2m which helps to break the umbilical cord. The fall doesn’t hurt the calf particularly as they are such large babies, although they may make a little thud when they do hit the ground. A giraffe calf will wean at about 6-8 months old, and the mother will have a gap of around 16-25 months between births.

Lifespan: up to 20 years (in females).

Predators: the only animal that actively hunts giraffe are lions, but only in certain areas. Hunting giraffe is a very dangerous activity as they have very long and powerful legs which is capable of delivering a nasty blow to anything hunting it.

Species of giraffe: According to the giraffe research charity Giraffe Conservation Foundation, research has recently proven that there are four distinct species of giraffe and five subspecies. Previously it was believed that there was just one distinct species and eight subspecies. Only two of the four main species devolve into subspecies. To see the division of giraffe species, see the table below:

Main species of giraffeSubspecies of giraffe
Masai giraffe Giraffa tippelskirchi
Northern giraffe Giraffe camelopardalis– Kordofan giraffe G. c. antiquorum
– Nubian giraffe G. c. camelopardalis (Also known as Rothschild’s)
– West African giraffe G. c. peralta
Reticulated giraffe Giraffe reticulate
Southern giraffe Giraffe giraffe– Angolan giraffe G. g. angolensis
– South African giraffe G. g. giraffe

Interesting giraffe facts:

  • Giraffe tongues are between 45-50cm long
  • The tongue is highly muscular and prehensile and is used to help avoid spikes and spines when feeding on trees.
  • The tongue is a blueish/purplish colour, the reason being is to protect it from harsh UV rays from the sun. As giraffes feed on the tops of trees, feeding for long hours in the sun could put them at risk of burning their tongue if it hadn’t evolved this way.
  • Although giraffe necks are around 1.8m long, they have the same number of neck vertebrae as us, which is 7.
  • A group of giraffes can be called a tower or a journey. I have been told that it depends whether a group is on the move or standing still feeding.
  • The Swahili word for giraffe is Twiga. The Afrikaans word is Kameelperd.

Common behaviours to spot: male giraffes can often be seen performing a behaviour known as necking. This is where they are stood side-by-side and swing their necks into the other. The blows delivered are incredibly powerful, the results of which can sometimes be fatal.

The giraffe population is currently declining, and giraffes have already become extinct in 7 African countries, with the main population spreads of giraffe remaining in southern and eastern Africa. The numbers are declining due to a loss of habitat, mainly because of the increase of the human population. Poaching, disease, war and civil unrest are also a major threat to the giraffe population. 

Giraffes are not related to camels, however this group does include one other species which is the okapi. It is known that the giraffe evolved from an animal that looked very similar to an okapi, but the reason that they are not darkly coloured and are much taller is due to them moving out of forest areas and into open savannah. 

Giraffes are thought to make no sound, however this is not true. They are capable of making noises such as bleats, squeals, whistles, and sometimes even snorts and hissing; however these sounds only tend to be made at times of stress. It is thought that most vocalisations are inaudible to the human ear as they may produce infra- or ultrasound; this however still needs to be confirmed. 

Giraffes anatomy is made to help them reach the tops of trees, they are not very well designed for eating or drinking from the ground. The neck of giraffes is actually too short to reach the ground from being stood up, which is why we see them splaying their legs when drinking from watering holes. They also need to splay their legs to eat fresh grass (which is extremely rare), or to pick up bones when needing to perform osteophagia. 

Information sources:

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