Tallest of all mammals, the giraffe attains an overall height
of 18 feet (5.5 meters) or more. An unmistakable animal, it has
a comparatively short body and very long legs and neck.
Head to shoulder length is approximately 13' for the male. Shoulder
height is 8-12', overall height 15-19'. Weight is 1,100-2,800
The back slopes downward to the hindquarters, and the neck, despite
its length, contains only the seven vertebrae typical of most
mammals including man.
The tail measures up to one yard with a terminal tuft of stiff,
black hair. Males and females have stiff manes on their neck.
Two to four short, skin covered horns are present in both sexes
and there is a central swelling, between the eyes, which in northern
giraffes is almost as long as the horns.
These bones are present at birth in the form of small knobs of
cartilage covered with skin and hair which become bony nodules
They have long prehensile
tongues (like hands) that measure 18-21 inches long. The inner part
of the tongue is pink in color, and then changes to a purplish-black
color for the last 6 inches that are commonly visible.
The coat is pale buff, covered to a greater or lesser extent with
reddish-brown spots that range from regular and geometric in some
forms to irregular and blotchy, or leaf-shaped, in others. Many
subspecies have been described based on coat pattern and the size
and number of horns.
The giraffe feeds primarily on thorny acacia (a-kay-sha) leaves;
they also consume twigs and bark. Their prehensile tounges and leathery
mouths enable them to gather these treats.
Giraffes do get thirsty, but it is almost difficult for them.
To reach the ground or to drink, it must bend or spread its fore
legs very far, looking like they are about to fall. Going for a
month without water is also possible as an adaptation to long drought
periods in their native areas.
Giraffes have high blood pressure (240/160) for pumping blood to
The carotid artery that carries blood from the heart to the head
is thick, muscular and elastic, ballooning when the giraffe stoops
to absorb increase in pressure. When the giraffe raises its head,
a series of check valves in the inch-wide jugular vein prevents
a sudden back flow from the emptying brain.
Its gait, because of its long stride, is swifter than it appears;
about 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour is reached at a gallop.
Giraffes usually sleep standing up for 20 minutes at a time.
Giraffes are non-seasonal breeders, usually producing one precocial
calf after a gestation period of 14-15 months.
Birth height is 5½-6', birth weight is 87-107 lbs. They become
sexually mature between 3 and 4 years of age and have a life span
of about 25 years (30+ in captivity). Full body size is not reached
until age five.
The giraffe has keen sight, smell, and hearing. They may see red-orange,
yellow-green, purple, green and blue as colors.
Its main predator, other than the human being, is the lion. Fortunately,
when defending itself, the giraffe kicks with its heavy hooves,
which are powerful enough to take lion's head off, and slams with
its head. Other predators are leopards (prey on young) and lions.
Giraffes are most vulnerable to predators when drinking or lying
Males fight among themselves by swimming their heads at one another,
it is quite funny.
Herds are small and loosely constructed of 5-15 individuals, consisting
of one bull with females and young. Other bulls are solitary or
The voice of the giraffe has so rarely been heard
that the animal is popularly supposed to be voiceless.
They may grunt of snort when alarmed, females may whistle to call
their young, and calves can bleat.
The giraffe lives in herds in Savanna and open bush country and
is native to most of Africa south of the Sahara.
Still numerous in East Africa, where it is protected, the giraffe
elsewhere has dwindled in number or has been exterminated because
of hunting by man.