Characterized by its long legs, long neck, and distinctive spotted pattern, many people first believed the giraffe was a cross between a leopard and a camel, which is reflected in its scientific name, Giraffa camelopardalis.
Giraffes live primarily in savanna areas in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Their extreme height allows them to eat leaves and shoots located much higher than other animals can reach. In particular, they seek out acacia trees. Their long tongues are helpful in eating because they help pull leaves from the trees. Spending most of the day eating, a full-grown giraffe consumes over 45 kg (100 lb.) of leaves and twigs a day.
The male giraffe is both taller and heavier than the female. Both sexes have skin-covered knobs, called ossicones, on the top of their heads. Female ossicones are smaller and have a small tuft of fur on top, while male ossicones are bald on the top. These knobs are used to protect the head when males fight, which involves swinging their necks at each other in a show of strength called “necking.”
When giraffes walk, they move both legs on one side of their body and then both legs on the other side; this is unique to giraffes. However, they run in a similar style to other mammals, swinging their rear legs and front legs in unison. They can reach 55 km/h (35 mph) at full speed but only in brief spurts.
Giraffes sleep less than two hours a day. In general, they sleep with their feet tucked under them and their head resting on their hindquarters, but they can also sleep for short periods of time standing up.
Female giraffes can become pregnant at 5 years old. They carry a baby for 15 months and give birth while standing up. Newborns are about 2 m (6 ft.) tall and weigh 70 kg (150 lb.).
They live up to 25 years in the wild.
Giraffes are classified by IUCN’s Red List as vulnerable of extinction. After researchers surveyed the population in trucks, by foot, by aircraft, and by remote cameras, they confirmed the number of giraffes has plummeted 40% since 1985. With some subspecies, such as the reticulated giraffe, the situation is even more dire, with their population declining by nearly 80%.
Giraffes face several threats, including loss of habitat due to logging for firewood. They are also hunted for their meat, hides, and tails, which are valued by many African tribes.
What You Can Do to Help
To help preserve giraffe populations, boycott products made with giraffe body parts and encourage others to do the same.
- African Wildlife Foundation’s Giraffe Page
- San Diego Zoo’s Giraffe Page
- Last of the Longnecks Documentary
Blog Posts about the Giraffe
- Featured Quiz: African Animals - May 15, 2018
- PHOTOS: Baby Animals from Taronga Western Plains Zoo - August 30, 2017
- Seeing Double: Two Baby Giraffes Born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo - August 24, 2017
- Giraffes Now Vulnerable of Extinction - December 7, 2016
- Did You Eat Your Dirt Today? - October 18, 2015
- Scientists Finally Discover What Sound the Giraffe Makes - September 18, 2015
- VIDEO: Baby Giraffe’s Boisterous Debut - May 4, 2015
- Featured Animal: Giraffe - August 1, 2014
- Memphis Zoo Announces Baby Giraffe - May 23, 2014
- Baby Giraffes at Busch Gardens - May 8, 2014
- Year in Review: Baby Animals of 2013 - December 23, 2013
- Giraffe Calf at Nashville Zoo - December 17, 2013
- Masai Giraffe Calf at Toronto Zoo - November 15, 2013
- Baby Masai Giraffe at Toronto Zoo - October 18, 2013
- Baby Giraffe Cam! - August 18, 2013
- Tallest Baby in Seattle Born - August 9, 2013
- Giraffe born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo - July 10, 2013
- Baby Giraffe at Busch Gardens - February 3, 2012
- Baby Giraffe at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay - December 29, 2011
- Animal Dress-up - October 6, 2010
- Two Baby Giraffes Join Tampa Bay Herd - July 15, 2010
- Baby Giraffe at the Memphis Zoo - January 31, 2010
- Giraffe Born at Niabi Zoo - December 29, 2009
- Study Reveals How Giraffes Maintain Long Necks - November 23, 2009
- San Francisco Zoo Welcomes Another Giraffe Calf - April 3, 2009
- Newborn Giraffe at Providence Zoo - December 29, 2008
Last updated on December 7, 2016.