Giraffe camelopardalis

Name: Giraffe
Scientific name: Giraffa camelopardalis
Range:  Africa
Habitat:  Dry, tree-scattered terrain south of the Saraha
Status:  Not threatened
Diet:  Acacia tree leaves, grass, and low laying bushes
Diet in the Zoo:  Herbivore diet
Location in the Zoo: African Savannah

Physical description:

Average male height 17 feet (5.3 meters), Weight averages 1800 pounds (800 kg).  The hoofed animals have chestnut brown blotches on buff colored fur.  The spots on the fur darken as the animal ages.  Giraffes have very long, flexible tongues and lips to go along with their long slender necks. The male giraffe's neck continues to grow after sexual maturity has been reached, whereas the females' neck stops growing when maturity is reached at about 10 years of age. Giraffes have seven vertebrae in their necks, just as humans do. They have very large eyes on the sides of their head, atop a periscope like neck, that give them wonderful eyesight. Also on the top of their head, they carry 2-4 stubby horns that lie under the skin. Their 8 inch ears give them a good sense of hearing.

The size of these giraffes can really be appreciated when they are seen standing next to these zebras. 
Photo courtesy of Africam







General information:

Giraffes tend to travel in herds that vary from as few as 3 to as many as 15 in number.  The females tend to stick together in family groups while they lose some of their young males to all-bachelor groups.  These herds may separate to graze for the day, but they always stay within hearing and vision range of each other.  A large male may consume up to 75 pounds of food every 24 hours.  Their stomach is like a cow's stomach, having four chambers that require the animal to chew its cud, fist sized balls of unchewed food that are regurgitated. These animals are thought to be very intelligent.
Giraffe herd pausing at a water hole at night

courtesy of Africam

The birth of a giraffe is the most dangerous time in its life.  Almost half of all newborns are killed by predators within the first few minutes.  A newborn calf, weighing between 120-150 pounds and standing 6 feet tall, usually stands within several minutes and begins nursing within an hour.   The mother hides her calf for the first month trying to keep it safe from predators.  Affection and protection is shown by the mother by rubbing, touching, sniffing, and licking her baby.  The calves begin playing in "nursery" groups at about 2 months of age, learning necessary survival skills.

Young giraffe nursing

courtesy of Africam

Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations.  

The long muscular necks were once thought to be explained by Darwin's Natural Selection theory, but are now said to have come about by sexual selection. The male giraffes use their neck and head to battle for a female in estrous. The weight of the weapon, the head, produces great momentum when being swung at the chest, ribs, legs and neck of their opponent. This act, called "necking", can cause great injury and even death. At one zoo in North America, a keeper accidentally allowed two males to get into the same pen with a female in heat. The smaller male was killed when his opponent punched a hole in his neck just below the ear, splintering a vertebrate and penetrating the spinal column. Experts seem to think that, because of this necking behavior, giraffes evolved through sexual selection. This also explains the fact that these animals spend 50 percent of their time grazing at bushes below their shoulder.

 Personal Observations:

The giraffes seemed very curious as to what we were doing and taking pictures of.  They seemed to want to be looked at and paid attention to.  The baby giraffe was licking a tree while under the protection of his mother.  They are majestic, graceful creatures that I received amazement from watching.


Related links:

          Giraffe Pictures and Facts

Page Author:
Natalie Raley
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Source list:

Simmons, Robert E. and Lue Scheepers.  "Winning by aNeck: Sexual Selection in the Evolution of Giraffe."
The American Naturalist   Nov 96: 771-86.

Chutesand Landers.  "How the Giraffe got its Neck."  DiscoverMarch      96: 14.

Encarta Encyclopedia on CD ROM.