What is a Giraffe?
Giraffes are mammals having long legs and a huge neck that makes them stand apart. Tallest among all land animals, giraffes can reach out to the tallest twigs of many trees. There are taller bulls and elephants among several animals, but Giraffe is the tallest among all of the land animals. Giraffes are among those land animals who do not attack humans and other animals unless essential for self-defence. Giraffes are herbivores, which makes them safe for other animals and humans. Although you would find a giraffe in every country today, or, at least in their zoo, Giraffe is a native of Africa. Though giraffes are not yet considered as one of the endangered species, there has been a decrease in the numbers of some of the species due to illegal hunting, global warming and deforestation.
The genus Giraffa has four different species. Giraffes had about 11 species, out of which 7 are extinct, and now we get to see only four species of Giraffe. The species are separated according to the native giraffe habitat, or the region where the giraffe is found. The northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), the southern giraffe (G. giraffa), the Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi), and the reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata). These giraffes mainly originate from North and South Africa. The species which are already extinct are - G. gracilis, G. jumae, G. priscilla, G. punjabiensis, G. pygmaea, G. sivalensis, and G. stillei.
Generally, giraffes have a lifespan of 26 years and sometimes even more when captivated. The giraffe lifespan also depends on the environment they are living in. If it is natural, then they live longer. If it is artificial, they tend to live shorter. A giraffe loses its lifespan if kept alone. They always need a mate for company. Giraffes can also live up to 38 years or more if they get a comfortable life, a partner and have good health. Numerous giraffes have crossed the age of 30, but the average age is about 26 years. Compared to other land animals, the giraffe is the most lived animal.
The Physical Appearance of a Giraffe
A completely grown giraffe has a height of about 14.1-18.7 feet. Usually, male giraffes are taller than females. Very rarely, giraffes are found to be taller than their average height-range. The average weight of a fully grown giraffe is about 1192 kg in the case of a male, and the adult female giraffe weighs about 1180 kg. Amongst all of their physical features, their long neck and tongue are most noticed. A giraffe has a tongue about 18 inches long in general.
The colour of their skin is unusual because it has dark brown spots on a light brown or cream coloured skin. The colour of their tongue being purplish-black is also quite unusual. The unique colour probably helps to stay protected from suntan and ultraviolet rays.
Apart from their unique physical feature, they have a good sense of hearing and smell. They can remember a place or anything from its smell. They can also identify poisonous fruits and plants from their smell. Their nostrils are protected with additional muscles, and they can close their muscular nostrils for protection against sandstorms and ants.
Along with the unusual pattern on the skin, it is also pretty unusual to have a skin of such thickness. A giraffe's skin is relatively thicker than that of the other animals. It helps them move in the woods and forest without getting easily hurt by the branches of trees or any other sharp object. Since they are tall, it is impossible for them to stay away from scratches and minor cuts, but their skin keeps them protected. Their fur has a different smell like every other animal. The smell of a female giraffe plays a vital role in their sexual function. Their tail is mostly hairy which helps them to keep the insects away.
Habitat of Giraffes
Where do giraffes live? Giraffes are found in grasslands mostly. They prefer living in open woodlands and savannahs as well. Some of their preferred locations are Acacieae, Commiphora, Combretum and Terminalia woodlands. A majority of the world's giraffe population is found in East Africa. Some of the species are also found in Southern Africa. They prefer natural reserves - thin forest over the dense forest. Giraffes are commonly found at Serengeti National Park and the Amboseli National Park. These are some giraffe habitat facts that you must know.
Food Preference of Giraffes
The giraffe habitat preference also depends on the food source. Giraffes prefer eating grass, shrubs, and fruit; grasses being the most preferred. That is what makes them live in woodlands. Their herbivorous food habit makes it easy to live in woodlands for getting food easily and quickly. Their food habit also includes bark of dried trees, leaves, fruits and other foliage. A mature giraffe eats about 34kg of food in a day. Their food preference varies depending on the weather, and also their mood.
Yes! Giraffes are moody, and when they are stressed or grumpy, they prefer eating dried bark of the branches or the tree itself. They prefer trees of Acacieae subfamily because the nutrients from such plants help them sustain their growth rate. Like cows and bulls, giraffes also store food before chewing it thoroughly. First, they chew the food, then store it in the neck, and whenever they are hungry, they pull up the food and chew again, and eventually, the food finally reaches the stomach.
Since they prefer plants from the Acacieae subfamily, they tend to eat plants with thorns. The tough tissues of their tongue help them pass on the thorns and chew it.
Like camels and other animals, giraffes can survive on less food. Since they eat foliage, it helps to stay full for a long time, and it provides more concentrated nutrients. The digestive system of giraffes is quite impressive. Since they are generally herbivorous, they have a robust digestive system that helps them absorb nutrients from all kinds of foliage and dried barks. It is rare to find a giraffe eating any animal’s flesh, but their digestive system also facilitates digestion of meat.
It is not hard for a giraffe to make a long journey in the desert or areas without water. Because they can stay up to three weeks without drinking water. They can drink a lot of water at once – about 12 gallons, which makes them keep up without water for a long time. Since they belong to African regions, they can survive dry weather, and also live in the desert for some days. Their skin too protects them from excessive heat and dryness. They don’t have a hump like a camel, but still, they can store food and water for a long time and move from place to place.
Are Giraffes Social?
Where are giraffes mostly found? Giraffes are commonly found in groups. Their groups are generally large, as large as a group of 66. The variety of groups depends on gender, species, age and habitat. Commonly giraffes stay in a group of either all females or all males. Sometimes mixed groups are also found. It is very common to find adult females with young males as they cannot survive easily without their mother. A group of all-adult males is also common.
In some seasons, groups of adult male and female giraffes are also found. Such groups are found in their mating season. It makes it easier to have sex and reproduce. Like humans, giraffes have different communities, and they also stay in a group with the giraffes of the same community. Due to their habit of staying in a group, it is common to find interconnected metapopulations under one group of giraffes. This particular habit makes them reproduce giraffes from parents of different species.
A group of adult female and young male giraffes is short-lived. As the young males grow older, they get separated from the female group and get attached to a male group or make their own group. In the case of weather change or after the reproduction season, the group members of males and females are also not the same. They stay with the nearby male or female members in respective groups. Giraffes are mostly silent, but they make sounds at a specific time. During any natural action like sneeze, cough, snore, hiss, and burst, they make a sound. Adult females have a unique sound to call their calves. The sound of calves is also different from adults. They have a different sound for communicating with each other. Their way of communicating is also different. They either stamp or toss heads, and even wave mane. During such actions, they produce a sound which has some meaning in their language.
Although giraffes live in large groups, they only make a sound when needed and when sleeping. They have different actions and sounds for different signals like danger, food, water, etc.
Reproduction of Giraffes
A four-year-old female giraffe is considered an adult and also mates with male giraffes. In male giraffes, they are considered adults at the age of 5 to 6 years, but they become ready to mate after the age of 7 years. Male giraffes prefer to mate with young adult female giraffes over mature female giraffes.
Though every giraffe has its own mating season, there is no particular season for the whole community. A male giraffe identifies the female ready for mating with her urine. The smell and component make the male giraffe attractive to the female. They have sexual organs similar to other mammalian land animals.
The gestation period of a female range from 400-460 days, resulting in the delivery of a single calf. Rarely are twins born to a giraffe. Within 3-4 hours after birth, the calf can sand on its own feet and run around. A newborn giraffe is about 5.6-6.6 ft. tall.
Generally, the male giraffe does not play any role in parenting the child. The mother keeps protecting the calves and trains them to fight the predators off, look for food, and survive alone. Mostly the male calves get separated as soon as they grow one month old or more. But in several cases, the calves stay with their mother for about a year. The first few weeks, they keep hiding from others, but as soon as they learn the skills, they tend to roam around separately or blend into other groups of the same community or gender.
As giraffes have a long lifespan they get the opportunity to mate multiple times. A female giraffe cannot mate until it gives birth to the carrying calf. But a male giraffe can mate with multiple female giraffes in their life.
Giraffe’s Relationship with Human
Giraffes belong to the African regions. The middle eastern people started studying their behaviour, differences, and other characteristics. Humans found different species. They named them and took them to different locations in the world. Now we can find at least one giraffe-family in the local zoo or the natural reserve.
More the world came to know about giraffes, the more helpful it became for the world but risky for the giraffes. Humans came to know about them, and then they started researching giraffes. A living giraffe helped to know about their characters when alive. The skeleton or a dead body of a giraffe has helped to know about the anatomy of the giraffe.
The need for the giraffe as a research material went up, and humans didn’t hesitate to kill giraffes. Apart from that, due to civilization and ever-growing numbers of human beings, deforestation has been the way to survive, but it turned out to be a significant threat to all the animals, including giraffes. Nowadays there are several restrictions on killing a giraffe, which makes many humans kill giraffes illegally. There are traders conducting illegal business with their skin, horn and other body parts, which is why giraffes may soon become an endangered species.