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Classification and Evolution
The giraffe is a long-necked, hoofed mammal native to the open woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa.
The giraffe is the tallest living animal on land, though its stature is most closely related to the much smaller and solitary okapi, which lives elusively in dense tropical forests. Nine recognized subspecies of giraffes are found in different geographic locations and vary in the color and pattern of their blotchy markings.
While giraffes were once found in sub-Saharan Africa and even parts of North Africa, they are now extinct from most of their historically wide natural range, with only a few isolated populations remaining in a few areas of central Africa.
Further south, however, giraffe populations are thought to be stable, or even growing in some areas, due to increased demand for giraffes on private ranches.
Different Types of Giraffes
As the species is endangered, there are only four different types of giraffes left. The four types are:
- northern giraffe
- reticulated giraffe
- southern giraffe
- masai giraffe
anatomy and appearance
The giraffe is an animal with an extremely long neck, which allows it to take advantage of too high foliage and vegetation that other animals cannot find. Despite their length, giraffe necks actually contain the same number of bones as many other hoofed mammals, but in a longer shape.
The giraffe's slender neck leads to a short body with long, thin, straight legs and a long tail that ends in a tuft of black down that helps repel flies. Giraffes tend to be white, with brown or reddish markings covering their bodies (except for the white lower legs).
Not only are the markings unique to each giraffe unique to that individual, but markings also vary widely between giraffe species in size, color and the amount of surrounding white. All giraffes have large eyes and, combined with their height, they have excellent eyesight and small, horn-like bony cones on top of their heads.
As a ruminant, the giraffe is an animal with multiple stomachs. They typically eat over 75 pounds of leaves per day, and each of their four stomachs does a different job to help digest nutrients extremely efficiently.
Distribution and Habitat
Previously found even in North Africa, today, remaining giraffe populations are restricted to parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with the greatest numbers found in national parks. Giraffes are animals that inhabit open woodlands and savannahs. They can use their height to see a long distance around them, so as to beware of approaching dangers.
Nine different giraffe species are found in different countries on the African continent, each exploiting its local ecological niche. Because giraffes feed on vegetation high in the trees, but are too woody for smaller herbivores, they are also able to stay domestic and graze areas that have wiped out plant species close to the ground, forcing that species to feed on them Food moves on.
Giraffes across Africa have been severely affected by the loss of large areas of their natural habitat.
Behavior and Lifestyle
The giraffe's large size means it has to spend a lot of time eating, which tends to be greatest in the hotter mornings and evenings. In the hot midday sun, giraffes rest in more shade, where they (like many of their relatives) ruminate their food, known as regurgitation, before eating it again.
Small herds of many female giraffes and their calves stay together day and night to protect their offspring from predators, but male giraffes are more solitary, often roaming large areas in search of fertile females.
However, if they come into contact with a male competitor, the two will start bumping heads and interlocking necks as a way of establishing a dominance hierarchy, with the winner earning the right to mate with the local female.
Giraffes only sleep for an hour or two a day. Even more impressive, they are adaptable, allowing them to take short naps while standing up.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Giraffes reproduce year-round, and after finding a female to mate with, male giraffes return to a solitary life. After a gestation period that lasts 15 months, a female giraffe gives birth to a two-meter-tall baby (twins are rare) with distinctive markings. Giraffe calves look the same as adults, but as they grow and mature, they become larger and longer.
After birth, a female giraffe typically keeps her calves away from the rest of the herd for an average of 15 days before weaning the calves in their first year of life. Male giraffes breed a year later than females, but sometimes they don't do so until nearly eight years old.
Although both young males and females join small groups, males tend to become more solitary as they age, while females remain together but often wander between different herds.
diet and prey
The giraffe is a herbivore and has evolved to its present height so that it has less competition for food in the higher branches of the canopy.
Giraffes have been known to eat up to 60 different kinds of plants throughout the year, grabbing branches with their long, black tongues (which can grow up to 18 inches long), and using their tough grasping lips and flat, There are grooved teeth for eating that are able to strip leaves from branches.
Giraffes most commonly eat acacia trees, but will also eat wild apricots, flowers, fruit and buds after rain, as well as seeds and fresh grass.
Giraffes get 70% of their water from food, so need to drink very little, but when they encounter clean water, they must spread their front legs (which are longer than their hind legs) to bring their heads close enough to the ground to drink. Giraffes can survive for up to three weeks without drinking water. Learn more about the world's fiercest animals here.
Predators and Threats
Although the giraffe is the tallest land animal in the world, it is actually the prey of many large carnivores that share the dry savannah. Lions are the main predators of giraffes. Lions use the strength of their entire pride to catch their prey, but giraffes are also preyed upon by leopards and hyenas.
Giraffes rely on wide open plains so they can get the best view of their surroundings, but if a predator gets too close, giraffes will defend themselves with big, heavy kicks against their attackers.
Young calves, however, are much more vulnerable and require the protection of their mother and herd. Sadly, about 50% of giraffe calves do not survive past 6 months due to predation. All giraffes are also threatened by human hunting, and populations have completely disappeared in some areas.
Interesting Facts and Features
Even though giraffes eat more than any other animal, males actually eat more than females to avoid competing for food. They stretched their necks higher, which may also have given them an advantage when it came to guarding off predators. Giraffes will sprint if they see danger, and can run at speeds in excess of 30 mph for short periods of time.
Interestingly though they can't actually trot as their size and size means they will stumble and have to switch from walking to running immediately. Thanks to the giraffe's height and its large, sensitive eyes, they are able to see considerable distances and have the largest field of vision of any animal on land.
relationship with humans
Giraffes today are considered a major tourist attraction and are one of the must-see species for many people on safari. However, giraffes have been hunted by humans and have been severely impacted by their encroachment on natural habitats, resulting in massive population declines across Africa and even extinction of the species in some countries.
But in southern Africa, giraffe populations are even growing in some areas, as giraffes become more popular on private ranches. However, giraffes have lost half of their once vast natural range due to hunting and habitat loss, with most wild individuals found in some of Africa's large national parks.
Protect the status quo and life today
Today, giraffes are listed by the IUCN as an animal of least concern for extinction in their natural environment in the near future, as most giraffe populations are currently stable and in some areas are actually increasing.
However, they are still affected by hunting and habitat loss, with populations further north becoming sparser and more isolated from each other. Some of the nine giraffe species are now listed as threatened or endangered.
See all 169 animals that start with G
Giraffes are herbivores, which means they eat plants.
Giraffes belong to the animal kingdom.
Giraffes belong to the phylum Chordate.
Giraffes belong to the mammal class.
Giraffes belong to the giraffe family.
Giraffes belong to the order Artiodactyla.
Giraffes belong to the genus Giraffe.
Giraffes have hair all over their bodies.
Giraffes live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Giraffes live in open woodlands and savannas.
Predators of giraffes include lions, leopards and hyenas.
The average litter size for giraffes is 1 head.
The scientific name of the giraffe is Giraffa camelopardalis.
Giraffes can live 20 to 25 years.
Baby giraffes are called calves.
There are 9 species of giraffes.
The biggest threats to giraffes are hunting and habitat loss.
Giraffes can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
A giraffe would win a fight with a zebra. A giraffe weighs almost three times as much as a zebra, and all that weight comes with far more strength. The giraffe either injures the zebra with its bone cone, or knocks the zebra out, and then the giraffe kicks the zebra to death.
A giraffe would win a fight with a lion. Note that we said that if giraffes were all fully grown, they would beat a lion. Lions mostly hunt giraffes when they are young, and they often use their pride to kill larger giraffes.