Giraffe – Scientific Name Giraffe camelopardarlis sp.
The tallest animal in Africa with a long neck and long legs, the giraffe is unmistakable. The giraffe of Africa are classified into eight subspecies taken from the patterning and the secluded distribution of the animals.
Despite their range having shrunk due to human impact, giraffe still have a wide distribution in sub-saharan Africa and are still abundant in many areas.
Giraffe have a very loose social structure with individuals of both sexes moving freely from group to group. There is no hierarchical structure although males will face off with each other to establish dominance within a group of males. These displays are normally over in a short time, although they can carry on for hours and at times turn nasty.
The giraffe of Africa are classified into eight subspecies. These sub-classifications are taken from the patterning and the secluded distribution of the animals. The reticulated giraffe of east Africa has the most distinctive markings of all whereas the southern giraffe has the greatest variety of patterning. The Thornicroft’s giraffe of Zambia is sub-classified due to its distribution not overlapping with any other sub-species (it also has a slight variation in patterning).
Occur in the open savanna woodland areas and in semi-desert areas such as Namibia and the Kalahari in Botswana. It is believed that water is essential for the survival of giraffe. However, in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve I have observed giraffe in areas where no drinking water was available.
With a reach of 13 meters and a flexible nine-inch (45cm) tongue the giraffe is able to eat leaves that other animals cannot reach. The tongue also allows it to reach shoots on thorny acacia trees, manoeuvring it around the dangers. Giraffe are predominantly browsers been able to reach the leaves at the tops of trees that other animals can’t reach.
Mating involves a lengthy courtship of shoving and scenting before an awkward looking mount ensues. Young are born after a fifteen-month gestation period and the female drops her calf while standing up. The calves can walk within an hour of birth. The calves will stay in what can best be described as a daycare with other young ones and will be protected by all the adults that are in the area at the time.
Giraffe have a valve in the neck that prevents blood rushing to the head when it is drinking.
As with many other herbivores ox-peckers are constant companions of giraffe.
Distinctive pattern of the Giraffe
The reticulated giraffe of east Africa have the most distinctive patterning of all the sub-species.
It was previously thought that giraffe were non-vocal and that because of their loose social structure communication was not important but this has since been found to be incorrect. Young ones will emit low mew-like sounds. Adults make a variety of alarm calls, from grunts to hisses.
A large percentage of young giraffe (some studies show as high as 75%) will be killed by predators such as hyenas and lions. Adults are also preyed upon by lions. [p]Giraffe possess a powerful kick that has inflicted bodily damage to many predators. I have observed a lion that had its jaw broken by the kick of a giraffe. Unable to eat with a broken jaw, the lion eventually finally died of starvation.
In a group where more than one male giraffe is present, males will constantly test one other for dominance by facing off. These ‘face-offs’ will sometime arise in a fight where the combatants will attempt to hit each other using the neck and head. These fights are normally over before serious injuries occur. There are rare instances when one will suffer a broken neck or even die. These fights can be heard from a distance when blows become very serious.
Giraffe have been known to gnaw on bones they find in the bush. This behaviour is explained as a calcium deficiency in the giraffe and they gnaw on bones as a supplement.
There’s one bush legend that speaks of a certain guide who loved to spin yarns to his guests. The guide once told the story of the man-eating giraffe, using his creative storytelling to spice up the story. On a game drive some time after this, his group came across a giraffe gnawing on a bone. The guests became increasingly nervous, particularly when the animal started walking toward the vehicle, much to the storytelling guides amusement
Art of drinking
Giraffe will take their time when moving toward a water source. When they arrive at the water they will once again spend a great deal of time looking around, stepping away and generally looking unsure.
When they finally do bend down to drink the stance they take is either with legs bent at the knees or knees locked (straight legged). If they perceive a disturbance they will flick their heads up quickly in a forward motion, spraying water from their mouths. Giraffes have a valve system which prevents blood rushing to the brain when they are drinking.
How many vertebrae does a giraffe have?
Because of its exceptionally long neck this is a very common question. The answer is a disappointing one: the same as all other mammals, they are just a little bit longer.
Whilst standing up a giraffe can twist its neck around reach under its tail and lick its anus! Is this the only mammal that can do this standing up?
Giraffe chewing on a bone
Giraffe chew on bones to relieve a calcium deficiency in their diets.
Two Male Giraffe fighting
Male giraffe tussle for dominance within a group using thier necks and heads as weapons.
Mating in giraffe can be a lengthy and ungainly affair
The long neck of a Giraffe
With its long neck the giraffe has the ability to lick its rear end whilst standing up.