The Giraffe Q & A

The giraffe is the tallest animal on the planet. Rafu Isirafu (in Zulu) are found in Sub Sahara Africa; with long, thin necks and tall legs, these mammals use their necks to reach topmost foliage, on very tall trees. Chiefly, herbivores, giraffes acquire all their nutrients (and most water) from plant based food, especially leaves from the Acacia tree. Let’s look over some giraffe Q & A and put our necks out with where you can see giraffes in the wild.

Giraffes coats have many different spots, patches, and markings, which help them camouflage from predators. Read on to find out another important task of their unique skin’s (often) triangular patches.

If you have questions about giraffes, and are looking for answers with no ‘tall tales’ we have taken ‘giant strides’ to answer some common queries and some not so common queries about these most majestic of animals in the Giraffe Q & A.

The Giraffe Q & A – Map of Giraffe Territory

How Tall Are Giraffes?

Giraffes are the tallest land animals in the world, growing up to 19 feet tall (around 4-5 m tall). That’s taller than an average house. Females are usually two feet shorter than males.

How Heavy are Giraffes?

Giraffes are one of the largest and heaviest land dwelling mammals; large males may weigh up to 1,900 kg (about 4,200 pounds). Female giraffes are smaller, typically reaching less than half that weight.

Do Giraffes Sleep Standing Up?

Giraffes will sleep for stints of about ten minutes at a time while standing. This keeps them alert to predators and ensures they are ready to run if they need to flee an attack or be ready to defend themselves.

The Giraffe, Q & A
The Giraffe Q & A

How Do Giraffes Breathe?

Like humans, giraffes breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. However, the animal’s lungs are about eight times bigger than a human’s and they have a very long and thin trachea; their breathing rate is about a third slower than humans. Due to their shape a lot of dead air builds up inside a giraffe. It’s lungs are larger to cope with the ‘bad air’ and to still permit its circulatory and respiratory systems to be able to provide oxygen to all parts of its elongated body.

A giraffe’s heart is large in comparison to other mammals as it has to create about double the blood pressure of a human to pump blood ten feet up to its brain from the giraffe’s lungs.

Why Are Some Giraffes Black?

The famous triangular patches on male giraffes will darken as the animals age until the animal looks a dusky shade, though they are never fully black. Many male giraffes are covered from head to toe in charcoal like patches by an average age of 9.4 years. Research has shown the change in appearance takes about 1.8 years.

Researcher Fred Bercovitch, of the Primate Research Institute & Wildlife Research Center, Kyoto University, thinks testosterone, somehow is the progenitor of this darker color change. However, he suggests once the bulls reach maturity, reaching a full set of darkened patches, the testosterone ‘probably levels out.’

Do Giraffes Have Tails?

The tail of a giraffe can grow to be 4 feet (1 meter long); the tail allows giraffes to rid their hind quarters of insects. Unfortunately, the tail is a status symbol in a few African countries where husbands will offer it as a dowry. This is causing depletion of numbers of giraffes in the wild.

What Do Giraffes Eat?

Giraffes are herbivores, which means that they eat plants and can spend up to 20 hours a day eating. They are one of the most herbivorous of all species of land animals. This is why they have such long necks to reach food, other animals can’t reach.

As a result of their long necks, they even have very long digestive systems that can process the plant matter that they eat. They are also partial to eating fruits and legumes. Since acacia leaves contain abundant water, giraffes can survive a long time without drinking at watering holes.

Giraffes like cows are ruminants, meaning they ‘chew the cud’. They acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting the cud in a specialized stomach prior to digestion, primarily by microbial actions. The ‘cud’ is regurgitated and chewed again to obtain as many nutrients as possible.

The giraffe’s prehensile tongue allows it to reach between sharp thorns of acacia trees to reach lush leaves. Saliva of giraffes is adapted to neutralize tannin poison that acacia trees emit into it’s leaves when mammals begin feeding on them. Giraffes can eat up to 66 kilograms of food daily.

Surprisingly, giraffes will also occasionally eats bones of abandoned carcasses; though they aren’t predators, their huge bones require a good level of calcium and phosphorous found in bone matter.

How Do Giraffes Communicate?

Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) communicate with each other in a variety of ways just like humans do. They can make sounds, use visual cues such as body language, and they can even use pheromones to communicate indirectly.

The most surprising fact is researchers suggest giraffes communicate using infra sound in grunts and calls too low for humans to hear. The benefit of this means of communication is that these pitches can be heard over longer distances than high pitched vocalizations. Scientists believe animals may be able to communicate with others up to several miles away using infra sound.

Giraffes also have acute senses of smell, sight, and hearing that help them to understand cues effectively from other members of their species. Prolonged stares can also warn other giraffes of impending threats and can even warn off predators.

What Do Giraffes Sound Like?

Giraffes do have vocal cords and they can make a variety of noises. Their communication sound is often a low, resonating groan used to communicate with other giraffes. Their sound is usually distinguished into two different types: the soft grumble and the high-pitched screech. Some scientists suggest giraffes communicate with ultrasound rumblings that cannot be heard by the human ear.

Biologist, Angela Stöger from the University of Vienna, Austria, claims after making 1000 hours of recordings of giraffes in European zoos found giraffes spent the evenings ‘humming’ at each other. “I was fascinated, because these signals have a very interesting sound and have a complex acoustic structure,” she says.

The “hum” turned out to be a low frequency sound, of about 92 hertz. She pointed out that there is no proof of giraffes reaching ultrasound levels.

Typically, an adult male giraffe will produce a soft grumble to communicate to other giraffes that he’s there and available to mate during breeding seasons. Sounding similar to a low goat or a low sheep’s ‘baa’ sound babies will call for their mothers in a series of blunt, cries.

A Young giraffe Calling to its Mother

Do Giraffes Have Teeth?

Giraffes (and most other animals) need to chew their food in order to break down the cellulose in their diet. Interestingly, giraffes don’t have front teeth as they don’t need them and they use a pad in the roof of their mouths and the space to strip leaves off branches. On the front of their bottom jaws they have incisors.

  • Giraffes and humans have the same amount of teeth, 32, that help them process tough plant material, like tree bark. Molars on both the top and bottom of their mouths help them chew the cud.

Do Giraffes Have Horns?

Giraffes do have a type of horn. They are actually modified skin and bone structures called ossicones. Distinguished from antlers and horns due to their coating of fur, the highly vascular rich ossicones typically attach to the skull when a giraffe becomes sexually mature.

The Giraffe Q & A – Giraffes Have Ossicones

Giraffes use these horn like structures in defense where they swoop their heads down to strike predators. Males will also use them for combat against other males during mating season; for this reason the larger male ossicones are usually bald at the tops.

Fantastic Facts About Giraffes

  1. Giraffes can run at 35 mph
  2. Predators include lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and African wild dogs.
  3. Uniquely, giraffes can kick out from all angles in any direction when defending itself or a baby.
  4. Patches on a giraffe’s skin are thought to regulate internal temperature. A network of blood vessels dissipates heat.
Fantastic Facts About Giraffes

Habits of Giraffes

Giraffes live in groups called ‘towers’ that are dominated by females and typically consist of a few young males too. Adult males are more solitary animals or stay in small groups of a few members. They can be found in savannahs and open woodlands where they can find enough acacia, mimosa, and wild apricot trees

  • Male giraffes spend about 22% of the 24 hours walking, compared to 13% for female giraffes.
  • Male giraffes spend less time browsing for food – about 43% of the time.
  • Males spend a large proportion of time looking for a female to mate with.

What Is the Lifespan of a Giraffe?

The average lifespan for adult giraffes is between 10 to 20 years in the wild and about 25 and 30 years in captivity.

Where Do Giraffes Live?

Giraffes usually live in the savannahs, woodlands and open plains of Sub Sahara Africa. They can be found largely in Botswana, Niger, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt and South Africa. Angola and Zambia in southwestern Africa.

How Many Giraffes Are Left?

It’s estimated that there are currently around 80,000 giraffes left in the wild but numbers are declining due to poaching, loss of habitat, human settlement and transfer of diseases from animals entering national parks. Between 1999 and 2015, their numbers decreased by 40 percent.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation is a great place to get involved with conservation efforts for giraffes. They offer a wide variety of opportunities for people to get involved including donating money, submitting photos for Project Rufiki or becoming a GCF ambassador.

The numbers of Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum) solely found in Chad is estimated at only 2,000, being depleted by 80% in just 3 decades according to The ICUN labels this species as ‘critically endangered’.

ICUN Red Flag Status
ICUN Red Flag Status

Evidence that conservation efforts can work are proven with the growth in numbers of the Western African giraffe, who’s numbers have risen from just 40 to over 600 due to efforts by the Chad government and conservation groups.

How do Giraffes Drink?

The good news for giraffes is that most of their moisture comes from leaf matter like acacia tree leaves or mopane tree leaves. However when, that is not enough to quench a giraffe’s thirst it will visit a quiet water hole where it doesn’t feel threats are close by. This is largely due to the time consuming movement it must take to lower it’s giant frame to the water’s surface. It spreads its front legs in a wide upside down ‘V’ shape and gently lowers its self down.

A Giraffe Showing Difficulties Drinking

Are Giraffes Dangerous?

Generally, giraffes are incredibly calm and very gentle animals, though when they feel threatened they can even attack humans and cars. When they swing their heads, with their powerful necks they can hit their target with massive force, though there are no recordings of this happening.

Their kicks can also cause great harm so its always best to follow guidance of a wildlife guide if you come close to these giants. Common sightings of clashes usually result in a smashed wing mirror when the giraffe runs close to the jeep or car.

How do Giraffes Combat Hyper Tension?

Narrow legs of giraffes are protected from swelling caused by hyper tension by strong connective tissue that presses around tissue preventing water leakage from blood cells that we see in humans.

When Do Giraffes Give Birth?

Female giraffes give birth twice a year (once in the rainy season and once at the start of the dry season). At birth, a calf will have a body weight of 30 pounds or less and will stay with its mother for up to 2 years (or until it reaches about 8 years old).

How Many Species of Giraffes Are There?

There are 4 species and 5 sub species of giraffe. There are currently about 9 recognized types of giraffes in the world. The major species are the giraffe, okapi and reticulated giraffe. These include:

  1. Sub-Saharan African Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis ssp.) Commonly found in captivity, in safaris and zoos, this species has long legs and longer necks; more of a black and white checked coat is common.
  2. Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi) dwelling in protected national parks in Tanzania and Kenya,.this giraffe has sadly not been spotted in the wild since 2006. Despite the species protection in parks, it is considered to be endangered largely to human poaching and transfer of diseases from domestic livestock and animals that cross into the park.
  3. West African Giraffe (G. peralta). This giraffe is close in appearance to the sub-Saharan giraffe with a few prominent differences. Paler patches and spots on its fur, a higher hump, and an absence os cream hair near the mouth area. They can be found in areas of Cameroon. Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
  4. Reticulated Giraffe (G. reticulata). This giraffe is distributed in West and Central Africa while it’s considered extinct in East Africa due to habitat loss. It has distinct darkened stripes on its body and an extremely long neck that can reach up to 30 feet.

The giraffe, four species ‘observation’ is based on a books of research and data made by GCF in collaboration with Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) in Germany, to study the DNA of giraffes. The team 1,000 DNA samples from all major giraffe populations across Africa.

  • Northern giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis 5,600
  • Kordofan giraffe G. c. antiquorum 2,000 In the Republic of Chad Kordofan giraffe almost exclusively exist in Zakouma National Park (NP)
  • West African giraffe G. c. peralta 600. In the mid-1990s there were only 49 West African giraffe left in the wild, today there are 600 due to conservation efforts.
  • Reticulated giraffe Giraffa reticulata 15,780
  • Southern giraffe Giraffa giraffa 54,750
  • Nubian giraffe G. c. camelopardalis 3,000
  • Angolan giraffe G. g. angolensis 17,750 – Victims of war they relocated to Namibia but efforts have been made to return the species to Angola.
  • South African giraffe G. g. giraffa 37,000

According to all over Africa numbers of giraffes are in decline, and some are in serious risk of extinction. They claim the plight of these threatened animals has largely gone unnoticed.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species claims giraffe populations have declined by over 40% in the last three decades and are in critical status due to increased human activity and habitat changes.

Where can I see a giraffe in the Wild?

You can see a rare Rothschild giraffe on the savannah of Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda which also has the world’s most powerful waterfall. Entebe airport (40 kms from Kampala) is about 4 hours drive.

Are Okapis Related to Giraffes?

The Okapi is a giraffe relative from the Giraffidae family that has gained popularity among conservationists in recent years. It’s named after the animal’s similarity to the okapi, a small primate native to Central Africa that has been extinct since 1914. Okapis are also known as the “mongoose giraffe.”

The Giraffe, Q & A
Okapi – Relation of the giraffe

An okapi is a large giraffe relation with a black-and-white striped coat and characteristic upright ears, that at first appearance doesn’t look related to the giraffe at all, perhaps more to a black and white zebra. However, similar features to its lofty cousin include large inky eyes and large ears and a long tongue, that can reach the base of its ears. Males have a pair of short-haired ossicones similar to giraffes, that are directed backward.

This interesting creature is very rare and lives in trees in Cameroon and Gabon. Like some species of giraffes, it has a curved neck that helps it pick up long leaves and branches for its diet of wild apricots and other fruits and leaves.

When did Giraffes First Exist?

The growth of a longer neck is suggested by experts to have started early in the giraffe lineage. Studies between giraffes and their ancient relatives suggest that vertebrae close to the skull became more elongated millions of years ago, and later the lengthening of vertebrae further down the neck.

An early giraffe ancestor, Canthumeryx is an extinct genus of primitive giraffid artiodactyls, which is a close ancestor of Giraffes, believed by archeologists to have lived 25–20 million years ago.

The Giraffe, Q & A - Canthumeryx
Giraffe: Q & A – When did Giraffes First Exist?

Do Giraffes Have Many Bones in Their Necks?

Surprisingly, giraffes necks have the same amount of bones as other mammals, including humans, though the difference is that each of the seven cervical vertebrae are much longer at up to 11 inches. Large muscles and a strengthened nuchal ligament help the giraffe control their powerful necks.

Giraffes and Breeding

Female giraffes are sexually mature typically when they reach 5 years, and pregnant females have a gestation period of about 15 months. Newborn calves are about 6 feet tall with a weight of about (150 lbs,100kg ) In a useful evolutionary adaption, baby giraffes take first steps within 1 hour, though interestingly, their necks only start to grow to disproportionate lengths after birth or the mother would have problems giving birth.

Giraffes in Literature:

Inky eyes peered down from the face, long lashes hung over them and her lips formed a plump pout. She had a laid-back air. Her coat faded here and there – sun scorched as if she had been walking endlessly, too many miles. First glance would have told she was a friendly and gentle creature. Second glance at her legs might have suggested she could be a potent fighter against any predators.

“Grubs will often attach themselves to a giraffe’s skin. My friends, the yellow-billed oxpecker birds, often clean them from the places I cannot reach. But there’s one stubborn grub they keep missing behind my ear. The grub is like no other. Cleverer, sneakier, that grub has been torturing me so badly for at least a week.

The travelers followed the ancient elephant-dung-strewn trail at a fast pace. Papio and Jasiri trod several feet behind Rafu, often glancing behind them at the tips of their shadows, for they lived with a leeching fear of being tracked and attacked by the black-maned beast. It was easy to fall behind a giraffe with such long strides even at their quickest pace.

The Zambezi Allies, E.G.Price

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