Life Span: 20 – 28 years in captivity (15 – 20 in the wild). Only 25-50% of giraffe calves reach adulthood.
Size: Tallest of all land animals. Males can be up to 6 metres in height, females up to 5 metres.
Weight: Males - 1100-1900 kg; Females - 700-1100kg; At birth, calves can weigh 45-70kg.
Collective Noun: Herd (nursery herd = crèche)
Neck: Despite its great length, the structure of a giraffe’s neck is very similar to that of other mammals. They have the same number of vertebrae as humans (7), only their neck bones are elongated and much larger than ours.
Hooves: The hooves of a giraffe can be the same diameter as an adult human head. They can kick in most directions to defend themselves and their young. Giraffes have enough strength in one kick to kill a lion.
Tongue: Giraffe have a tongue which can measure up to 45cm long! This is used to pick off the leaves, shoots and buds of many African trees that have long, sharp thorns. Giraffe spend most of their day grazing. The tongue’s blue colouration acts like sunscreen, which is highly necessary.
Closest relative: The giraffe is related to other even-toed ungulates, such as deer and cattle. Giraffe are placed in their own separate family though, along with the Okapi.
Heart: Their heart is as large as a basketball and can weigh up to 12kg. It pumps around 61 litres of blood a minute.
Drinking water: To drink water a giraffe must splay its front legs and bend at the knees. When their head is down a valve helps to regulate blood flow in order to prevent brain damage (and head spins!). Due to the length of their neck, a great deal of pressure is needed for blood to reach the brain (double the blood pressure of other large mammals).
Tails: Giraffe use their metre-long tuft of black hair on their tails to very effectively swat tsetse flies away.
Eyes: With the largest eyes of any land mammal giraffe have great eyesight and can see clearly up to 2km away. They perceive colour.
Walk: Giraffe walk with the limbs on one side of their body lifted at the same time. This gait is called a pace and allows a longer stride, saving steps and energy.
Relationships: Giraffe have mutually beneficial relationships with a few species of birds, such as the oxpecker. These birds sit on the giraffe’s backs and eat parasites living in their coats. This helps giraffe as parasites could weaken them physically, leaving them more vulnerable to prey.
Scientific Name: The scientific name of the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) “camel leopard” refers to their unusual patches of colour on a light background. When the giraffe was first documented this coat pattern was thought to resemble that of a leopard. Such an irregular coat pattern is thought to camouflage these creatures under the mottled sunlight of the trees they feed upon.
The word giraffe is believed to have originated from the Arabic word ‘ziraafa’ or zuraph, meaning ‘assemblage’.