Experience the enormity of our giraffes
Geographical Region: Africa
- Our Animals
- Distribution & Habitat
- Description & Behaviour
- Threats & Conservation
- Interesting information
Zoos SA has been very successful with the breeding of giraffes. Monarto Zoo now has the largest herd of giraffes in Australia. Giraffes from this herd are transported to Adelaide Zoo for a time, before eventually returning to Monarto Zoo.
Distribution & Habitat
Giraffes are found in open woodlands and wooded grasslands south of the Sahara desert, Africa.
Description & Behaviour
The average height of a male giraffe is 5.3 metres but they can reach 6 meters. The females are smaller, standing about 4 metres high.
The giraffe has one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, averaging 1.9 hours per day. Giraffes often lie down to sleep, with head and neck lying across the flanks, but also sleep standing up.
Individual giraffes have their own unique pattern on their coat. The colour may change but the pattern remains the same throughout the animal’s life. As a giraffe ages, the pattern on the coat becomes a dark brown to almost black.
A giraffe's heart can weigh up to 10 kg and measure about 60 cm long.
A complex pressure-regulation system prevents excess blood flow to the brain when the giraffe lowers its head to drink. They also have a very tight sheath of thick skin over their lower limbs, which maintains high extravascular pressure.
When astronauts return to Earth and stand up, the blood flows right down to the legs, and the proper signals are not sent to replenish the brain's blood supply, causing the returning astronauts to faint. NASA scientists hope to remedy this problem by studying animals such as the giraffe, which is able to offset the pull of gravity on its very tall body even when standing still.
The pace of the giraffe is an amble, though it can run extremely fast. Giraffes also have slightly elongated forelegs, about 10% longer than their hind legs. When hunting adult giraffes, lions try to knock the lanky animal off its feet and pull it down.
A unique feature of a giraffe is its elongated neck. Surprisingly the animal only has 7 vertebrate, like most mammals. Each vertebrae is considerably larger, to support its extremely long and muscular neck.
Reproduction is polygamous, with a few older males impregnating all the fertile females in a herd. Male giraffes determine female fertility by tasting the female's urine in order to detect estrus.
Giraffes give birth to their young standing up, which means they usually have a 1.5 metre fall before touching the ground. The head, neck and front legs are presented first and are almost touching the ground when the final contraction takes place. The birth process usually takes about 3 hours, while the gestation period is about 15 months.
The new born giraffe will drink its mothers milk for approximately nine months, while at the same time it will be exploring adult food.
The normal life span of a giraffe living in captivity is approximately 25-30 years. In the wild the life span of a giraffe is much shorter due to factors such as illness and predators.
A giraffe’s tongue can be extended up to 45 centimetres and is a dark, almost black colour. This colour is a natural sun protection. Giraffes use this tongue to reach high into trees to obtain leaves and also use their long, muscular upper lip to rip leaves from branches. The effectiveness of this lip means that the giraffes have no upper front teeth.
In the wild giraffe’s diet comprises of leaves, shoots, flowers, seedpods, fruits, vines and some herbs. An average of 16-20 hours per day are spent feeding, with up to 60kg of fresh browse consumed. The long, prehensile, muscular tongue, thick, gluey saliva, and special upper palate shape enable the giraffe to process thorny foods.
Threats & Conservation
The giraffe is a protected species in most of its range. Populations in eastern and southern Africa are stable and in some cases expanding. However giraffes are hunted for their hides, hair, and meat, with habitat destruction for firewood and livestock affecting population numbers in West Africa.
Lions are the only predators that pose a serious threat to an adult giraffe but they are difficult and dangerous prey. When attacked the giraffe defends itself by kicking with great force; a single well-placed kick from an adult giraffe can shatter a lion's skull or break its spine.
- Giraffe can run at speeds up to 50kph.
- Although generally quiet, giraffes have been heard to grunt, snort and bleat.
- Fights with other giraffes involve neck wrestling and head banging; defence against predators is characterised by striking out with the forefeet. Males have extra bone deposits on their skulls for fighting.
- Ancient Egyptian art has giraffe designs. Their tail hairs were also used for jewelry and their hide has been used to make things like sandals and ceremonial shields.
- The Romans called the giraffe a camelopardalis, which means "camel marked like a leopard". This is where giraffes get their species name, camelopardalis.
- Giraffes can be seen in paintings, including the famous painting of a giraffe which was taken from Africa to China by Admiral Zheng He in 1414. The giraffe was placed in a Ming Dynasty zoo.
- The Medici giraffe was a giraffe presented to Lorenzo de Medici in 1486. It caused a great stir on its arrival in Florence and was reputedly the first living giraffe to be seen in Italy since the days of Ancient Rome. It did not survive for long and another giraffe was not seen in Europe for almost 300 years.
- The Adoration of the Magi by Domenico Ghirlandaio was painted just after the arrival of the Medici giraffe and shows the animal descending a hill on the right-hand side.
- Toys "R" Us mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe was originally portrayed as a cartoon giraffe. Other fictional giraffes include ‘Longrack’ of the Transformers universe, ‘Girafarig’ from the Pokémon franchise, and ‘Melman’ from Madagascar