Giraffes are mammals. No other land animal is bigger in terms of body size from head to feet. They are known mainly because of the extraordinarily long neck. In the neck, the giraffe has seven cervical vertebrae, like most other mammals. But the giraffe’s are exceptionally long. Another special feature of giraffes are their two horns, which are covered with fur. Some species have humps between their eyes.
Giraffes live in Africa in savannahs, steppes and scrublands. There are nine subspecies, which can be recognized by their fur. Each subspecies lives in a specific area.
The males are also called bulls, they grow up to six meters high and weigh up to 1900 kilograms. The female giraffes are called cows. They can grow four and a half meters high and weigh up to 1180 kilograms. Their shoulders are between two and three and a half meters high.
How giraffes live?
Giraffes are herbivores. Every day, they need about 30 kilograms of food, spending up to 20 hours a day eating and searching for food. The giraffe’s long neck gives it a great advantage over other herbivores: it allows it to graze in places on trees that no other animal can reach. To pluck the leaves they use their blue tongue. It is up to 50 centimeters long.
Giraffes can go for weeks without water because they absorb enough liquid with their leaves. When they do drink water, they have to spread their front legs wide so that they can reach the water with their heads.
female giraffes live in groups, but they do not always stay together. Such a herd of giraffes sometimes even has 32 animals. The young giraffe bulls form their own groups. As adult animals they are loners. Fight with each other when they meet. Then they stand side by side and bang their head against each other’s long neck.
How giraffes reproduce?
Giraffe mothers almost always carry only one baby at a time in their bellies. Pregnancy lasts longer than in humans: A giraffe calf stays in its mother’s womb for 15 months. Female giraffes have their young standing up. The young animal does not mind falling from so high up to the ground.
At birth, a young animal already weighs 50 kilograms. After only one hour it can stand up and is 1.80 meters tall, as tall as a grown man. This is how it reaches its mother’s teats so it can suckle milk there. After just a short time, it can run. This is very important so that it can follow its mother and run away from predators.
For about a year and a half, the young animal stays with its mother. At about four years it becomes sexually mature, at six years it is fully grown. A giraffe lives to be about 25 years old in the wild. In captivity it can be 35 years.
Are giraffes at risk?
Giraffes are rarely attacked by predators because they are so big. If necessary, they kick their enemies with their front hooves. This is more difficult for the young animals when they are attacked by lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs. Although the mother protects them, only a quarter to a half of the young animals grow up.
The biggest enemy of giraffes is man. Already the Romans and Greeks hunted giraffes. The natives did the same. The long tendons of giraffes were popular for bowstrings and as strings for musical instruments. However, this hunt did not lead to a serious threat. In general, giraffes are quite dangerous for humans if they feel threatened.
But humans are taking away more and more of the giraffes’ habitats. Today they are extinct north of the Sahara. And the remaining giraffe species are endangered. In West Africa they are even threatened with extinction. There are still the most giraffes in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania on the east coast of Africa. To think of the giraffes finds every 21. June the World Giraffe Day takes place.
Skins of the different giraffe species
In these places in Africa live the different species of giraffes.
A giraffe in Botswana eating from a tree.
The head of an Angola giraffe from close up
Giraffes and zebras live peacefully together.
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