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Facts about Giraffes
Interesting Facts About Giraffes
Info on Giraffes
The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an even-toed ungulate (or hoofed animal) found in Africa. Find out more about this fascinating creature, including information about its coat, what it eats, why it doesn't burst the blood vessels in the brain and eyes when it bends down, and why it is not a good idea to pat a giraffe in the wild.
Giraffe picture courtesy of morguefile.
Now you all know that the giraffe is a tall animal. But just how tall? Giraffes are the tallest living animal on earth. A fully grown male (bull) can reach a height of about 18 feet (5.5 meters) - that's 3 men standing on top of each other, while the female (cow) will grow to nearly 16 feet (4.5 meters). A newborn baby giraffe stands about 6 feet tall (nearly 2 meters) - that's as tall as a fully grown man.
Because the giraffes' necks are so long, they need to have a strong heart (up to 2 feet/60cm long in an adult male) and quite a high blood pressure to enable the blood to reach the brain. You would think that this high blood pressure would cause problems when a giraffe puts its head down to drink or graze, but it has special one-way valves in the arteries at the base of the neck to slow the flow of blood until the giraffe lifts its head again.
You'd think that a giraffe would be front heavy and topple forwards because of its long sloping neck. But in fact, most of the giraffe's weight is at the back and it has strong muscles which hold the weight of the head and neck. They also have a very large ligament, like a huge rubber band, running from the base of the skull to base of the tail, which pulls the neck up.
The giraffe coat pattern
Have you ever noticed that some giraffes have different types of patterns? See what I mean by looking at the difference between these giraffes' coats.
Compare the thickness of the "white" lines and how jagged the edges of the brown patches are. These different coat patterns are from different subspecies of giraffe which inhabit different regions in Africa. There are 9 different subspecies of giraffe which can be recognized by their skin pattern.
Actually every single giraffe has its own distinct coat pattern, just like we have distinct fingerprints. Their patterns will remain the same throughout their lives, but the colors can vary with the season, and the age and health of the giraffe.
Map licensed for reuse under the CC BY 2.0 license .
The giraffe's horns
Both male and female giraffes have two to four skin-covered horns on their heads (called ossicones). The horns of the male giraffe can be about 10 inches (25cm) long, and are longer and thicker than the females'. The males also have a marked bone protuberance between the horns.
Where do giraffes live?
Giraffes live in the grasslands (savannah) and woodlands south of the Sahara Desert in Africa. Older giraffes tend to live alone but the younger giraffes live in herds of somewhere between 12 and 50 animals. The composition of these herds change on a daily basis with the giraffes, especially the bulls, moving around between groups. A group of giraffes is called a journey of giraffes.
Giraffes will eat many different kinds of leaves, twigs, and sometimes fruit and other vegetation, including grass. They even eat the leaves of the acacia thorn bush. Their lips are thick and have thick hairs which prevents them from being torn on the thorns.
Giraffes are ruminants, which means they chew the cud, food which has already been chewed once, has spent some time in a first stomach being broken down by bacteria and then regurgitated back into its mouth again. This way the giraffe can extract all the nutrition from the leaves. They spend the hottest part of the day standing or lying in the shade with their heads up, chewing the cud. They also chew the cud and browse on leaves through most of the night because they only need about one hour's sleep per day. When they sleep, they lay their heads back alongside their bodies.
The giraffe uses its long, black tongue to pull the ranches of trees into its mouth. It will then pull back its head to rake the leaves off the branch between its teeth.
If there is water available, the giraffe will bend its legs or straddle them apart so that it can reach it. Their necks are not very flexible, because they only contain 7 bones (just like our necks). But giraffes can also survive in more arid regions where there are no pools of water. Apparently they can get all the moisture they need from the leaves they eat.
Adult male giraffes can sometimes be seen fighting, swinging their necks and intercurling them, and hitting their heads together. The sound of these blows can be heard for nearly a mile! Some bulls have even been knocked unconscious in these battles for supremacy. This fighting, or necking usually happens between young bulls when a new male arrives in the area.
Giraffes, with their wide ears and large nostrils, have good hearing and a good sense of smell. Because they are so tall, they can also see long distances, even in a thick, bushy habitat. They can also run about 35 mph (59 km/h) which is faster than a horse and they have great stamina. Their hides are also very thick to help ward off predators. When they browse on the thorny acacia trees, the thorns can get stuck into their thick hide. So it is advisable never to try to pat a giraffe in the wild as you could rip your hands to shreds on these thorns.
When trying to defend themselves against their predators, giraffes will use either their front or hind legs to kick at the animal. One kick can kill a lion, so lions will tend to avoid the adults.
The mother giraffe is pregnant for about 14.5 months and the baby giraffes, called calves, are born at any time of the year. The mother giraffe remains standing to give birth, so the calf has to drop 6 or 7 feet (2m) to the ground. Ouch! Fortunately the baby giraffe is rather tough.
A female will become pregnant again soon after giving birth.
Baby Giraffes (Calves)
When the calves are born, they weigh about 130 lb (59kg). Phew - that's heavy - poor mother! Within an hour of birth, the baby giraffe is up on its feet, drinking its mother's milk. Not long after this, it is able to walk and even run around. It will start eating leaves and twigs when it is a few weeks old, but it will continue to drink its mother's milk for 6 months or so. Baby giraffes will usually remain with their mothers for about a year. Unfortunately about half of the young giraffes die before they reach the age of one. Giraffes in the wild can live to around 26 years but the average is 6 years.
The Giraffe in History
In Roman times, the giraffes were featured as bizarre creatures in the Levantine bestiaries. But later the Europeans forgot all about the giraffe and thought they were just mythical creatures. Stories of giraffes told by explorers were not usually believed until the Pasha of Egypt sent a young female giraffe to Charles X, King of France in 1826. She was made to walk the 550 miles (900 km) from Marseilles to Paris so that many people were able to see her. For many months after this, she was the talk in scientific journals and even hairstyles and fabrics were inspired by this amazing animal.
Mehmet Ali Pasha also sent giraffes to King George IV of England and to Emperor Francis II of Austria.
Bibliography - The books I used to research this info on giraffes
Pocket Factfile of Mammals
Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide
The Robot Zoo: A Mechanical Guide to the Way Animals Work
Encyclopedia of the Animal World, Bay Books Sydney, 1972
Living World Encyclopedias - Nature, by David Stephen, 1962