Appearance Giraffe are unmistakable, but there are some interesting facts that many are unaware of. A total of nine sub-species of Giraffe are found in Africa, each distinguished by their coat patterns, or 'spots', however each individual Giraffe has a unique pattern of spots, within the confines of the species pattern. Kenya boasts three species of giraffe: Masai Giraffe, from southern Kenya, Reticulated Giraffe, from northern Kenya and Rothschild Giraffe, from Nakuru NP. Giraffes are both the tallest and have the largest eyes of any mammal on earth, as well as having the longest necks and tails. Giraffes either walk or gallop, there is no in-between. When walking, they move both legs on one side of the body, before moving both legs on the other side. When galloping, the opposite happens and both back legs come forward, before the front legs move forward. Adult Giraffes weigh up to 1.9 tons (1.4 ton for females), standing 20' (6m) tall (5m for females). Both male and female Giraffes have horns (ossicones) on top of their heads. Males horns are generally bald on top, due to 'necking', while female's are usually hairy.
Resident Giraffes occupy dry savanna woodlands, particularly Acacia, Commiphora, Combretum and Terminalia trees. Water nearby is also periodically necessary, although Giraffes get much of the moisture they require from the food they eat.
Longevity Female Giraffes (cows) come into season for the first time when aged four and males reach sexual maturity at age six. The urine of a female Giraffe changes during oestrus and the male, keen to get it right, tastes the female's urine, before attempting to mate. During the latter stages of pregnancy, the female Giraffe is unable to rest lying down, because doing so would crush the baby. A single calf (rarely, twins) is born after around 450 days gestation, weighing 16 stone (100kg) and drops 5' (1.5m) to the ground. It can walk within 1 hour of being born and will rely on its mother's milk entirely for 12 weeks and occasionally for 9 - 12 months, leaving its mother at 15 months. During the first year of life, the baby Giraffe doubles its height, although in some populations, 50% will die through predation from Leopards, Spotted Hyenas and Wild Dogs, during that period. Giraffes live up to 25 years in the wild. Despite the Giraffe being of "Least Concern" in the IUCN lists, they are still hunted for food in some African countries, while habitat-loss and fragmentation also make for an uncertain future, with numbers declining since 1999. Southern Sudan, northern Kenya, Chad, Somalia and Ethiopia all have war zones and a Giraffe is easily hunted and feeds a lot of people. In Congo, it is estimated there are less than 50 Giraffes remaining, while seven African countries have now lost all their Giraffe population. Only 300 West African and 650 Nubian species exist in the wild. Rothschild's and Thornicroft's species fare a little better, with less than a thousand of each remaining in the wild. The West African and Rothschild's Giraffe are listed as "Endangered" by IUCN.
Predators Giraffe lead fairly peaceful lives, except for occasional predation by Lions, or Nile Crocodiles, when they bend down to drink. Only lying down in open areas, Giraffes spend most of their time standing and are extremely vigilant, especially if they have youngsters. Only when a Lion can reach the head of a Giraffe can they kill. When lying down, Giraffes curl their neck around, so that the head rests on its bottom, enabling constant security. Excellent colour vision, sense of smell and hearing enable Giraffes to be on guard when Lions are still at a distance. Only on sight of Lions do they make a sound, like a cow, to warn the predators off. They will stand, looking straight at the Lion, their height and stance warning other animals for miles around. If attacked, they will run and at full gallop, a Giraffe can sustain 35mph (60kph). Alternatively, a Giraffe can stand its ground and lash out with heavy hooves on long legs and it's not unknown for a Giraffe to kill a Lion. The hooves of a Giraffe reach 12" (30cm) in diameter and 6" (15cm) high, so is a weighty affair when kicked out.
Behaviour Giraffes move in large areas of up to 120km sq., in herds of up to 30. Their groups are not stable and many move between herds. Adult bulls are generally solitary, although batchelor groups are not uncommon. Bulls fight to gain mating rights, standing side by side, using their weight to push against their adversary. "Necking" is the word used to describe Giraffes fighting, where they swing their long necks, banging their horns into their opponent's body. Placing their necks over an opponent's and holding them down is another form of competition. In unusual circumstances, a Giraffe can die through wounds inflicted during 'necking', with severe wounds leaving it at risk of predation. It is not unusual for two bulls to caress each other after necking takes place, with one bull mounting the other and climaxing.
Diet Almost exclusively browsers, they eat leaves, young shoots, flowers, grass, fruit and twigs. Over 100 different plants make up the Giraffe's diet and they eat around 5.5 stone (34kg) each day. They feed both during the day and night, resting during the hottest hours and males & females eat from different parts of trees, to avoid competing for food, which could result in squabbles. A 20" (50cm) long, dark-coloured tongue wraps around tender shoots and is impervious to the thorns of the Acacia trees and bushes. Giant eyelashes protect Giraffes eyes, when feeding amongst these sharp thorns and a lack of front teeth in the upper jaw means they can cram more leaves into every mouthful. Giraffes, just like cows, have 4 stomachs and they are a ruminant, eating and storing in one place, then bringing it up and chewing the cud. Moving between plants, the Giraffe is an unwitting polinator and they also pass seeds through their system, carrying and 'planting' in other areas. Having passed through the Giraffe's digestion system, it has been proved that a seed's potential to germinate is enhanced. It is easy to spot areas where Giraffes are present, from the "beehive" shaped trees, with flares on top. Giraffes feed to a certain height, trimming the tree inwards at the top. Anything above that height is the 'flare' on top. Access to drinking water is essential every few days, although Giraffes gain much of their liquid from the plants they eat. To drink, a Giraffe must either spread its front legs or kneel, to lower its head to the water. Special veins in the neck stop a rush of blood to its head. Conversely, increased blood pressure (twice that of other mammals) is required to pump blood up to the Giraffe's head and the Giraffe's heart is a mighty pump, weighing up to 1.5 stone (10kg) and is 2' (60cm) in length.
Other Giraffe Facts The scientific name 'Camelopardalis', was originally bestowed because they were thought to be part-Camel and part-Leopard..! The collective noun for Giraffes is a tower..! The Giraffe is the national symbol of Tanzania. Giraffes are one of the few species born with horns and the hair of a Giraffe's 3' 3" (1m) tail & mane is around 10 times thicker than human hair. Surprisingly, a Giraffe's neck contains the same amount of cervical vertebrae as a human's, even though it is 6' 6" (2m) long and weighs 43 stone (272kg). The Giraffe can close its nostrils to protect itself from ants, or in sandstorms. An interesting fact about Giraffes, is the way they keep their bodies cool. The Giraffe's 'spots' are generally used as camoflage; but specifically, they have thread veins running beneath each 'spot', which connect to a larger vein running around the perimeter of the 'spot'. When the Giraffe starts to feel hot, the larger vein pushes blood into the thread veins, which excavate the heat. An Elephant has similar characturistics, with its veins mounted behind its ears. The Elephant can then flap its ears, something a Giraffe cannot do. Instead, the Giraffe makes up for this with body size and possibly, the neck of the Giraffe has evolved to create a larger area for more 'spots'. Giraffes have a symbiotic relationship with both Red-billed Oxpeckers and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. These small birds eat the ticks that live on Giraffes, benefiting from the food source. The Giraffe benefits from both from being de-ticked and relies on the bird to spot enemies and alert its host.
Photographs Images taken in Kenya's Masai Mara, Meru NP, Nairobi NP, Nakuru NP and Olare Orok Conservancy.