Interesting Facts About Giraffes
Updated: Jan 7
Lifespan: about 28 years.
Weight: up to 1400 kg’s
Height: up to 5 meters
Gestation: 15 months
Offspring: 1 calf
The giraffe is one of the most iconic animals in #Africa, certainly the tallest of all terrestrial animals and the largest ruminant. Both male and females have horns or oscines which are bony like protrusions on top of the skull. When the #giraffe is born the oscines are loose, soft and flat against the skull but eventually join onto the skull as they grow older. Females can be distinguished from males by having tufts of black hair on top of the oscines, where males are bald. When males fight for the right to mate – they hit each other’s bodies with their heads and tips of their horns thus rubbing the hair off. These fights can carry on for hours and hours and can sometimes be violent and fatal.
The giraffe’s extremely long neck allows them to be able to reach the highest nutritious leaves on trees which no other animals can reach. One would imagine that giraffe have many neck vertebra – however they have exactly the same amount of vertebra in their necks as humans do – 7. This however creates circulation problems for them which are overcome by an extremely intricate blood circulatory system.
Giraffe have extremely long legs but in practical terms actually walk on their toes. If you look at the skeleton of the giraffe you will see that the wrist bones are supper elongated – maybe to give them more height. Also if you watch the giraffe as it walks – both legs on the same side move at the same time. Another animal that does the same is the camel. Hence the species name of the giraffe is camelopardalis (which loosely translates to a leopard camel). They are however not related to the camel. With their long legs giraffe protect themselves from predators by being able to kick frontwards, sideways and backwards. One kick from a giraffe can break the jaw of a lion.
The giraffe has a mosaic of brown, black and light brown colour on their bodies. This enables them to be very well camouflaged even though they are so tall. Some people believe that the darker animals are males and lighter are females. This is not always true as very dark females and very light males have been seen. An easy way to identify the 9 different sub species of giraffe can be done through the colour and markings of their fur. The spots on their skin also aids in thermoregulation. Blood circulates around and within the dark patches absorbing and releasing heat.
Giraffe are ruminants – they regurgitate their food – if you watch really carefully when they ruminate you can see the ball of food being brought up the length of the neck and then re-swallowed again when it has finished chewing. They eat mostly leaves, but can also try grass, seed pods, flowers and flowers. The most common trees that they really like to eat are the Acacia species – maybe because the leaves are already so small and soft that they don’t have to spend so much energy breaking them down. They strip the leaves off the trees with the help of their lips and their 45cm long prehensile dark blue tongues – feeding carefully in between the thorns. On average they eat about 34kgs a day. Giraffe are often seen chewing on bones – this is called osteophagia. They need a lot of calcium and phosphorus for their bone maintenance and the food they eat does not supply enough – so they pick up old bones and chew on them for hours. They rub the bone between their back teeth slowly taking off small pieces of bone. They seem to enjoy this past time very much as you can see them salivating while chewing.
Giraffe have a very loose social structure – in other words they sometimes walk in herds and sometimes alone. They don’t form any close bonds. The males will fight for the right to mate but will not protect a territory. When a female is ready to mate she will be accompanied by one or more males and the strongest male will mate with her – very briefly. He has to take his entire body weight onto his back legs and being so tall can be quite awkward. Fifteen months later one calf is born. The female will stand during birth so that when the calf falls to the ground, the umbilical cord can be broken. The time taken for the calf from being born to standing can be as little as on hour. Giraffes do not make very good and attentive mothers. They will often leave their calves alone or in “crèches” while going off to feed. This leaves the littles ones at risk of predation.
The heart of the giraffe can weight up to 12 kilograms. It has to have a huge heart in order to pump the blood all the way up to the brain. As a result their blood pressure is double that of humans. In order to control the flow of blood in the body – the giraffe has a special pressure reducing mechanism that prevents them drowning in their own blood. When a giraffe drinks the head has to go below the level of the heart. This would create even more pressure in the brain so there are special valves in the arteries and veins to stop this from happening. When you watch them drinking they will not put their heads down for long before bringing it up again to release the pressure. When giraffe lie down, they do not put their heads down so they basically just sit and they only do this for a short while in the day. It has been said that they only sleep for about 30 minutes a day. When they are in this position they are very vulnerable. So with these two reasons – high blood pressure and lack of sleep – maybe that is the reason why they do not live too long – we certainly wouldn’t live long.
Giraffe are mostly silent animals. They do have a well-developed voice box and can vocalise but usually don’t. The most frequent noise they make is a short of air through their lips when there are #predators around. It is believed that they can also communicate via infra and ultra sound.
Giraffes are very lucky to have a built in housekeeping system. Red and yellow billed ox-pecker #birds clean many of the external parasites of their bodies. They have serrated beaks that run through the fur of the giraffe cleaning out any unwanted travellers. They intern will warn the giraffe of any hidden dangers.
There are 9 other subspecies (South African, Kordofan, Nubian, Angolan, Reticulated, Rothschild, Masai, Thornicroft and West African) of giraffe and two of them have been listed as critically endangered (the Kordofan and Nubian). The others are either vulnerable or #endangered. Over the last 30 years there has been a 40% drop in the number of wild giraffe mainly due to habitat encroachment and loss by humans.