Giraffa camelopardalisgiraffe

Geographic Range

Giraffa camelopardalis is native to Africa, mainly found south of the Sahara to eastern Transvaal, Natal, and northern Botswana. Giraffes have disappeared from most of western Africa, except a residual population in Niger. They have been reintroduced in South Africa to game reserves. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

Habitat

Giraffes inhabits arid, dry land. They seek out areas enriched with Acacia growth. Giraffes are found in savannas, grasslands, or open woodlands. Because they only occasionally drink, giraffes can be found away from a water source. Male giraffes can venture into denser wooded areas in search of more foliage. ("Walker's Mammals of the World", 1999)

Physical Description

Giraffa camelopardalis is the world’s tallest mammal. Male giraffes (bulls) stand a total of 5.7 m from the ground to their horns: 3.3 m at the shoulders with a long neck of 2.4 m. Female giraffes (cows) are 0.7 to 1 m shorter than bulls. Bulls weigh up to 1,930 kg, while cows can weigh up to 1,180 kg. At birth, giraffe calves are 2 m tall from the ground to the shoulders. Newborn giraffes weigh 50 to 55 kg.

Both male and female giraffes have a spotted coat. The pattern of the coat varies and is an aide for camouflage with the different habitats. The nine giraffe subspecies have various skin patterns. The patches on a giraffe coat can be small, medium, or large in size. Giraffe coats are sharp-edged or fuzzy-edged; small, medium, or large; or yellow to black in color. The skin pattern for an individual giraffe is constant throughout the giraffe’s life. With the changing of season and health, the coat color may be altered. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

Giraffa camelopardalis have long, sturdy legs, with their front legs longer than their back legs. Giraffe necks contain 7 elongated vertebrae. Giraffes have a steeply sloping back from the shoulders to the rump. Their tails are thin and long, measuring about 76 to 101 cm in length. A black tuft at the end of the tail whisks away flies and other flying insects. Giraffe horns, called ossicones, are bone protuberances covered with skin and fur. Female giraffe horns are thin and tufted; male giraffe horns are thick but the hair is smoothed by sparring. A medium-sized horn is common in both male and females; while males can grow a second pair behind the first pair of horns. The eyes are very large and their 45 cm long black tongue grasps prickly food from the very tops of trees. (Burnie and Wilson, 2001)

  • Range mass
    1180 to 1930 kg
    2599.12 to 4251.10 lb
  • Range length
    4.7 to 5.7 m
    15.42 to 18.70 ft

Reproduction

Giraffes are polgynous. Bulls carefully guard an estrous female from other male giraffes. Courtship starts when a bull approaches a cow to perform a urine test, smelling the urine with a pronounced lip curl, a behavior referred to as flehmen. The bull will then proceed to rub his head near the rump of the female and rest it on her back. Male giraffes lick the tail of the female and lift his foreleg. If receptive, the female giraffe will circle the male, hold her tail out, and take on a mating position, after which copulation occurs. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

For Giraffa camelopardalis, conception occurs in the rainy season, with birth occurring in the dry months. Most giraffe births take place from May to August. Female giraffes breed every 20 to 30 months. The gestation period is about 457 days. Mother giraffes give birth standing up or walking. The giraffe calf drops 2 m to the ground. Most often a single calf is born; twins are uncommon but do occur. Newborn calves get to their feet and begin suckling fifteen minutes after birth. The weaning period for female calves is 12 to 16 months; the weaning period for males is 12 to 14 months. The independence period varies between bulls and cows. Cows tend to stay within the herd. However, bulls tend to become solitary until they find or obtain their own herd and become the dominant male. Female giraffes reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years of age but do not breed for at least another year. At age 4 to 5 years, male giraffe become sexually mature; however, it is not until seven years of age when they start to breed. ("Encyclopedia of Mammals", 1997; "Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Giraffes can give birth every 20 to 30 months
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs between May and August.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 (low)
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    400 to 468 days
  • Average gestation period
    457 days
  • Range weaning age
    12 to 16 months
  • Average weaning age
    12 months
  • Range time to independence
    1 to 3 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 5 years

A giraffe calf hides throughout much of the day and night of its first week, remaining on the ground. Mother giraffes stay nearby, within 25 m, guarding their young and feeding. At night females return to their young to nurse them.

After three to four weeks, mother giraffes steer their young calves into crèche groups. The crèche group allows mother giraffes to wander further away from the young calf to feed or drink. The mother giraffes take turns watching over all the youngsters in the crèche group. Now the mother giraffe can drift as far as 200 m from her calf. Mothers still return before nightfall to suckle and protect their calf. ("Encyclopedia of Mammals", 1997; "Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Giraffa camelopardalis have a life expectancy between 20 to 27 years in zoos. Giraffes live for 10 to 15 years in the wild. ("Animal Fact Sheet", 2005; "Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    25 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    27 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    10 to 15 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    20 to 25 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    25 years

Behavior

Giraffes are social animals, living in loose, open, unstable herds varying from 10 to 20 individuals, although herds of up to 70 have been observed. Individual giraffes join and leave the herd at will. Herds can include all female, all male, female with young calves, or mixed genders and ages. Female giraffes are more social than male giraffes. Isolated individuals can also be encountered in the wild. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003; Sanderson, 1982)

Giraffes feed and drink during the morning and evening. Giraffes rest at night while standing up. When resting, the head lies on a hind leg, with the neck forming an impressive arch. Giraffes sleep standing up but can occasionally lie down. Giraffes that are resting lightly remain in a fully upright position, with half-closed eyes, and ears continuing to twitch. During the hot midday, giraffes usually chews their cud. Cud-chewing can take place during any part of the day. ("Walker's Mammals of the World", 1999; Burnie and Wilson, 2001)

Adult male giraffes establish dominance hierarchies by sparring. Sparring involves two individuals standing stiff-legged and parallel. The males march in step with one another with their necks horizontal and looking forward. They rub and intertwine their necks and heads, then lean against each other to evaluate their opponent’s strength. "Necking" occurs when two giraffes stand alongside each other and swing their heads at the other giraffe. They aim their horns at their opponent’s rump, flanks, or neck. A hard enough blow can knock down or injure an opponent. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

Giraffes are is a fast moving mammals, reading speeds from 32 to 60 km/h. They can sprint for considerable distances. ("Walker's Mammals of the World", 1999; Duplaix and Simon, 1976)

  • Range territory size
    5 to 654 km^2

Home Range

Giraffes are non-territorial. Giraffe home ranges vary from 5 to 654 km2, depending on food and water availability. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

Communication and Perception

Giraffa camelopardalis are rarely heard and are usually considered silent mammals. Giraffes communicate with one another by infrasonic sound. They do, at times, vocalize to one another by grunts or whistle-like cries. Some other communication sounds for giraffes are moaning, snoring, hissing, and flutelike sounds. When alarmed, a giraffe grunts or snorts to warn neighboring giraffes of the danger. Mother giraffes can whistle to their young calves. Also, cows search for their lost young by making bellowing calls. The calves return their mother’s calls by bleating or mewing. While courting an estrous cow, male giraffes may cough raucously. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003; "Walker's Mammals of the World", 1999; Duplaix and Simon, 1976; Sanderson, 1982)

Giraffe vision relies mainly on their height. Their height allows giraffes a continual visual contact while at great distances from their herd. The acute eyesight of giraffes can spot predators at a distance so they can prepare to defend themselves by kicking. Individuals within a herd may scatter widely across the grassland in search of good food or drink, and only cluster together at good food trees or if threatened. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • duets

Food Habits

Giraffes feed on leaves, flowers, seed pods, and fruits. In areas where the savanna floor is salty or full of minerals, they eat soil as well. Giraffes are ruminants and have a four-chambered stomach. Chewing cud while traveling helps to maximize their feeding opportunities. ("Encyclopedia of Mammals", 1997; "Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003)

Giraffa camelopardalis have long tongues, narrow muzzles, and flexible upper lips to help obtain leaves from the tall trees they use for browsing. Giraffes use many tree species for browse, including: Acacia senegal, Mimosa pudica, Combretum micranthum, and Prunus armeniaca. Their main food is the leaves from Acacia trees. Giraffes browse by taking the branches in their mouths and pulling away the head to tear away the leaves. Acacia trees have thorns but giraffe molars crush the thorns. Up to 66 kg of food for one day can be consumed by an adult, male giraffe. However, in poor-quality areas, a giraffe can survive on 7 kg of food per day. ("Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia", 2003; "Walker's Mammals of the World", 1999; Sanderson, 1982)

Male giraffes typically feed with their head and neck completely outstretched to the shoots. Their fodder is from the underside of the high canopy. Female giraffes feed at body and knee height, feeding from the crown of lower trees or shrubs. Female giraffes are more selective when feeding. They choose foliage with highest nutritional value. ("Encyclopedia of Mammals", 1997)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers

Predation

Lions (Panthera leo) are the main predators of giraffes; while leopards (Panthera pardus) and (hyenas Hyaena hyaena) have also been known to prey on giraffes. Adult giraffes are well able to defend themselves. They remain vigilant and are capable of running quickly and delivering deadly blows with their front hooves. Crocodiles may also prey on giraffes when they come to waterholes to drink. Most predators of giraffes target young, sick, or elderly giraffes. The blotchy color of giraffe skin also helps to camouflage them while foraging in scrub forests. (Burnie and Wilson, 2001; Duplaix and Simon, 1976)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Giraffes are host to troublesome ticks. Oxpecker birds (Buphagus africanus) rests on the backs and necks of giraffes, removing the ticks from the giraffe skin. There is a mutually beneficial relationship between giraffes and oxpecker birds. ("Encyclopedia of Mammals", 1997)

Mutualist Species
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • ticks (Acari)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In many zoos and wildlife parks, giraffes serve as an attraction. Giraffes have been killed for their meat and hide. The thick skin has been made into buckets, reins, whips, straps for harnesses, and sometime for musical instruments. ("Encyclopedia of Mammals", 1997)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of giraffes on humans.

Conservation Status

Giraffa camelopardalis populations seem to be stable throughout parts of their range and are threatened in other areas. Giraffes are hunted and poached for their skin, meat, and tail. Habitat destruction also impacts giraffe populations. Giraffe populations remain common in east and southern Africa but have drastically fallen in west Africa. In Niger, conservation of giraffes has been made a priority. In other places where large mammals have disappeared, giraffes have survived. Their survival could be because their height diminishes competition with domestic mammals. ("Encyclopedia of Mammals", 1997)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Sarah Maisano (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

duets

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nomadic

generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

2005. "Animal Fact Sheet" (On-line). Reticulated Giraffe. Accessed November 19, 2005 at http://www.zoo.org/educate/fact_sheets/savana/giraffe.htm.

1997. Encyclopedia of Mammals. Pp. 809-833 in A Brown, et. al., eds. Browsing Giants, Vol. 6. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp..

2003. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Pp. 399-408 in M Hutchins, D Kleiman, V Geist, M McDade, eds. Okapis and giraffes, Vol. 15: IV, 2 Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Pp. 1084-1089 in R Nowak, ed. Okapi and Giraffe, Vol. 2, 6 Edition. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Burnie, D., D. Wilson. 2001. Smithsonian Institution Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. New York: DK Publishing, Inc..

Duplaix, N., N. Simon. 1976. World Guide to Mammals. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc..

Sanderson, I. 1982. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of Animal Life. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc..