Giraffa camelopardalis is the tallest terrestrial animal and the largest herbivorous mammal in the World. It feeds by softening its food before swallowing and digesting it. The male giraffe is larger than the female - five to six metres tall and can reach up to 1600 kilograms (3500 pounds). The male also differs from the female in that it has darker markings and as it grows older with develop a third, central horn on its head.
Only the giraffe and the okapi are members of the Giraffidae family. In the past, other species from the same family existed but now they are extinct. Scientists believe that the first species from the family appeared eight million years ago.
There are up to nine giraffe sub-species. All of them inhabit Africa. The Massai giraffe is the species that has the largest population in the wild. According to 2010 estimates, 40,000 of the Massai giraffes still live in Africa. One sub-species is the Greves giraffe found at Samburu national Park in Kenya
Nutritional Habits and Behaviour
The giraffe has one main advantage over all other herbivorous animals – its height. The long neck allows the beautiful mammal to reach food that other animals can never get to. Giraffes feed mainly on acacia leaves.
Because of their nutritional habits, giraffes inhabit savannas, woodlands and grasslands. Some of the sub-species are capable of surviving in the African desserts. An adult giraffe will eat approximately 35 kilograms of leaves on a daily basis.
The effective digestive system and the types of plants that it feeds on allows the giraffe to survive on less food than other herbivorous mammals. Giraffes require drinking water once every three days. Giraffes typically live in groups but there are no strong social connections or hierarchy. A giraffe can easily decide to change its group. Mothers and their offspring form the most stable groups. Giraffes are polygamous animals. The gestation period of the female giraffe lasts up to 460 days, after which she typically gives birth to just one calf.
Habitat and Population
Giraffes are endangered animals due to poaching for bush meat and population pressure on their habitats in many African countries. The fact that giraffes were considered a single species in the past has slowed down conservation efforts. Some of the most endangered species are currently having less than 100 members in the wild.
According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), the number of giraffes currently inhabiting Africa is less than 80,000 individuals, regardless of sub-species. In 1999, the number of giraffes was 140,000 and the drop in numbers is exceptionally worrying.
They live and thrive in most National Parks and because of their size are relatively easy to spot. For those who wish for a closer encounter there is the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Kenya where a viewing platform has been built that allows you eye-to-eye contact with these beautiful animals.
To watch our video featuring giraffes in the wild, please visit our YouTube channel.