|Themes > Science > Class Mammalia > Mammals > Order Artiodactyla > Giraffe|
The tallest animal in the world
Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world, with the males being 15-17 ft tall and the females 12-15 ft tall. The neck takes up half of the height. The males weigh around 1765-4225 lbs and the females weigh 1215-2600 lbs. Giraffes are awkward-looking creatures with long legs and a long neck that can reach 6 ft in length. The neck consists of only seven vertebrate, the same number as most mammals, including humans. They have a 15 in tongue used to grasp leaves and clean their eyes and ears. They have 2-5 short, skin-covered horns called ossicorns on their head that both males and females have. A pair is found on the forehead with sometimes one in front and another pair behind. As the giraffes get older, the ossicorns turn from bristle to bone.
To keep from losing consciousness while drinking, the giraffe has extremely elastic blood vessels and special valves in the neck to control the blood flow to the head.
The giraffe has a familiar coat of chestnut brown, black or light brown blotches on a buff background. As the giraffe ages, the coat darkens. Giraffes have an unusually large voice box, and yet they rarely communicate. They were thought to be mute until the middle of the century when zoo keepers overheard them speak. The young bleat like cows and the females make a sound like "wa-ray." Both males and females grunt and cough.
To run they stretch their hind feet in front of their forefeet, and to walk they move both feet on one side simultaneously. They can reach speeds of 56 km/h (35 mph). They have a lifespan of 25 years in the wild, 36 years in captivity.
Giraffes are found in the open woodlands and grasslands of subsaharan Africa. Their range is from Sudan and Somalia south to South Africa and west to Nigeria.
Giraffes are found in herds of 2-10 led by a bull and consisting of cows, calves and young males. "Necking," when two males stand side by side and wrestle with their necks, is used to show dominance. Rarely does this activity injure them.
Giraffes feed mainly on acacia, as well as climbers, vines and herbs. The thorns of the acacia tree proves to be of little worry to them as their long tongues can reach between the thorns. The males and females do not compete for food, as the males eat from the highest branches and the females from the low branches. They consume approximately 30 lbs of leaves daily.
Sexual maturity is reached at 3.5 years of age for the males, 4-5 years for the females. They mate any time of the year. The gestation period is 453-464 days, with one calf being born. The young weigh 47-70 kg (103-155 lbs) at birth and are 6 ft tall. They are born with ossicorns that lie flat on their head and pop upright after a week. nursing is said to last for nine months, although calves have been observed to stop after only a week. The milk is rich in fat and the young grow quickly.
Giraffes have few enemies. They are hunted by poachers and are occasionally consumed by lions, although this is rare as one kick with the long legs and heavy hooves can prove to be fatal. The young are eaten by leopards, hyaenas and wild dogs.
There are two species in the family Giraffidae, the giraffe and the okapi . The giraffe is divided into nine subspecies based on the number of ossicorns and the differences in the coat. They include the Nigerian, Kordofan, Nubian, reticulated , Rothschild's , Masai , Thornicroft's, Southern and Angolan giraffes.