The Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis meaning ‘fast walking camel leopard) is the world’s tallest mammals. Males (bulls) can reach up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height and weigh up to 1,930 kg (4,250 pounds). The tallest females (cows) grow to about 4.5 meters (14 feet) and weigh in at 1,180 kg (2,600 pounds). Babies (calves) are born 1.8 meters (six feet) tall and grow very rapidly during the first year of their lives, adding 3 centimetres per day during the first week and doubling their height in the first year! The giraffe's height helps it to keep a sharp lookout for predators across the wide expanse of the African savanna. Their African name “Ndlulamithi” means “taller than the trees”.
Gestation is 15 months and females give birth to a single offspring at a time standing up to push the calf out, so that when the baby giraffe emerges, it drops to the ground. This fall can be about 2 meters (6 feet), and it helps the giraffe's umbilical cord to break. New-borns are often on their feet within 20 minutes and are soon feeding on their mother’s milk. Calves can walk about an hour after birth and run within 24 hours. They stay with their mothers in isolation for the first week to learn each other’s scent, after which the calf joins a “nursery group” of similar-aged youngsters while mothers forage at variable distances…about half of very young calves are killed by lions and hyenas despite the mothers best efforts and being capable of kicking at predators with both front and back legs whilst standing over their calves to protect them. Young giraffes may suckle for up to a year; however, they start to sample plants just a few weeks after birth. Giraffe calves are weaned at one year and become fully independent by 15 months of age. Female giraffe calves are fully grown by age five and male giraffe calves by the age of seven.
There are approximately 10000 Giraffes in the Kruger National Park. They are gregarious and live in nonterritorial loose groups of up to 20 at a time, a behaviour that apparently allows for increased vigilance against predators. They have excellent eyesight, and when one giraffe notices approaching danger it will keep staring until the others look in that direction too. Giraffes live up to 26 years in the wild and slightly longer in captivity.
Home ranges are as small as 85 square km (33 square miles) in wetter areas but up to 1,500 square km (580 square miles) in dry regions.
Adults generally have no predators other than lions. They are however vulnerable when they are lying down or drinking. A Giraffe will deeply sleep for only five to 10 minutes lying down at night and rarely sleep more than 20 minutes total per day. Bending down is a challenge. To reach ground level when drinking a giraffe has to splay its front legs at an angle of almost 45 degrees. Giraffes blood pressure is twice that found in humans, the high pressure is needed to pump blood up to its head, this could cause brain damage when the head is lowered so they have specially modified circulatory systems and elastic blood vessels that relieve some of the excess pressure to combat this. They also have a series of valves in their neck veins that ensure that blood always flows from the head back towards the heart, even when this means going against gravity.
Giraffes have many more amazing adaptions that help them with their lifestyle in the wild including a very long tongue, up to 40-45cm (18-20 inches); very thick skin to provide insulation and protection; very long eyelids to keep out ants and sense thorns on the branches of the trees from which they browse; and horns which are not really horns but in fact “ossicones” formed from ossified cartilage covered by skin born by both males and females…initially lying flat and not attached to the skull to avoid injury at birth…later used to protect the head when males fight which involves swinging their necks at each other in a show of strength called “necking.”
Time to go and see a Giraffe in the wilds for yourself? Book an African Safari with Kruger South Safaris today …don’t delay…the iconic “Giraffe feeding from an African Acacia tree” photo is yours for the taking.
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