Easily identified due to their exclusively long neck, giraffes are highly social African animals.
Giraffe Scientific Classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Vertebrata
- Order: Mammalia
- Family: Giraffidae
- Genus: Giraffa
- Species: Giraffa camelopardalis
- Lifespan: up to 25 years
- Height: 14 to 19.7 feet
- Weight: 1,000 to 3,000 pounds
- Top speed: 37 mph
The extremely long legs and necks of the giraffes set them apart from other terrestrial animals.
Each individual giraffe has a distinctive coat that is entirely covered in an irregular pattern of dark spots or patches. Their color ranges from brown, chestnut to almost black. These patches are separated by yellowish-white or cream-colored hair.
An adult male giraffe has a height ranging between 14.1 to 19.7 feet. Females are shorter than their male counterparts and can grow up to 14 feet tall.
On top of their head, both sexes have 2-3 specialized horns called ossicones. Male giraffes have bald ossicones, while females have a tuft of hair on top of them.
These adult giraffes can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, while females can weigh anywhere between 1,500 to 1,800 pounds. They have a 31.5-39.4 inches long tail which ends with a long and dark black tuft of fur.
There are four distinct species of giraffe, which are the northern giraffe, reticulated giraffe, giraffe tippelskirchi, and southern giraffe.
These species have seven giraffe subspecies, which are the Kordofan giraffe, Nubian giraffe, Nigerian giraffe (also known as West African giraffe), South African giraffe, Luangwa or Thornicroft’s giraffe, and Angolan giraffe.
Did you know? The giraffe is the tallest land animal and the largest ruminant on Earth.
Giraffe Range & Habitat
Giraffes are the native species of Africa. They can be commonly found in African regions such as Botswana, Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Giraffes usually prefer to live in wide and open woodlands and savannahs in their African habitat. They like to avoid denser environments.
The south of sub-Saharan and East African regions are the most common habitat of giraffes. They prefer to live in places where a large number of trees occur.
- Continents: Africa
- Countries: Angola; Botswana; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Ethiopia; Kenya; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Forest | Savanna | Shrubland
Giraffe Behavior and Lifestyle
Giraffes are terrestrial species. They are highly social animals that roam in herds of up to 15 members in general. The maximum number of giraffes in a group can range up to 70 individuals.
Commonly, their groups are sex-segregated. But mixed-sex groups comprising young males and adult female giraffes can be found too.
Dominant male giraffes participate in an activity called “necking” to establish authority. In this activity, they wildly swing their necks towards one another as a show of strength.
Giraffes only need to sleep for just 5 to 30 minutes a day. They achieve this in short naps of 1-2 minutes at a time. They can sleep by lying on the ground as well as by standing. They produce noises like hisses, whistles, moos, and bellows.
Giraffes are entirely herbivorous animals. Their diet mostly contains a large variety of leaves belonging to different plants and trees. In particular, the leaves of the acacia tree are their favorite food.
Their other preferred food includes grass, shrubs, twigs, shoots, fruits, and wild apricots. They can eat up to 75 pounds of foliage daily. Their feeding is at its peak during the morning and early evening hours.
Their long tongues help them to easily maneuver around thorns and other prickly things in trees. Their thick and sticky saliva acts as their natural protector, in case they may inadvertently sallow some thorns.
Due to their exceptionally tall height, giraffes don’t face much competition when gathering their food. Standing at almost 18 feet, giraffes can easily eat the leaves from high treetops that most animals cannot reach.
They browse on the twigs of tall trees and graze from them. Since male giraffes are taller than females, they pluck and eat leaves from the higher branches and leave the lower ones for their female counterparts.
Since giraffes have tall legs and equally tall necks, bending down to reach a water source becomes very difficult. This awkward bending position also makes them vulnerable to predators.
Luckily, giraffes don’t need water every day. They can go days without taking even a sip of water. Their leafy meals fulfill their liquid requirement. However, when they do drink, they can drink up to 10 gallons of water in a single day!
Giraffe Reproduction and Mating
Giraffes are polygamous species. They do not have a defined mating season like several other animals. They can reproduce throughout the year.
However, the breeding is at its peak during the rainy season, and most giraffe births take place in the dry season, usually between May to August.
A male attracts a female giraffe by curling his lips in a flehmen position. This is done to determine whether or not the female giraffe is ready for mating.
Male giraffes reach sexual maturity by 4-5 years of age, while females become sexually active when they are 4 years old.
The gestation period lasts for 400-460 days. Female giraffes give birth to a single baby giraffe (calf). On very rare occasions, twins can also be born.
The mother gives birth by standing up, and the calf drops to the ground from almost 5.5-6 feet in height breaking the umbilical cord.
A newborn calf is approximately 6 feet tall and weighs around 150-200 pounds. Within an hour of birth, the calf can start walking and even running around.
Giraffe Conservation Status
Giraffe Predators and Threats
The major predators of giraffes include lions, leopards, crocodiles, and hyenas. Calves are at the highest risk of predation. They are often attacked by lions and leopards, who can attack and kill almost 3-4 calves in one go.
Currently, the biggest threat to giraffes is the degrading vegetation, habitat loss due to rapid industrialization, and illegal hunting.
Human hunters often poach giraffes for their meat, skin, and tail. In various parts of Africa, the giraffe’s tail is considered a good-luck charm and is used to make bracelets, fly whisks, necklaces, etc. Their skin is used to make drums, sandals, and shields.
A few fun and interesting facts about giraffes are:
- Giraffes are the tallest mammals on the entire globe. Their feet alone are taller than many human beings–about 6 feet.
- Giraffes spend most of their lives standing up. They eat, give birth, and even sleep while standing up.
- Giraffes have distinctive spot patterns. Their spots are unique, much like the fingerprint of human beings. This means that no two individual giraffes would have the exact same coat pattern.
- Giraffes are fast! They can run at a speed of 37 miles per hour.
- Giraffes have dark blue-colored tongues that can grow up to 18 inches long!