The tallest land mammal on the planet, the reticulated giraffe gets its name from the geometric pattern on its coat. Each giraffe has a unique coat pattern. Sometimes, parts of these patterns may be inherited, showing a similarity within a family line. Coat color often changes over a giraffe’s lifetime and may darken or lighten significantly depending on the individual.
Reticulated giraffes are classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Giraffe populations in the wild are estimated at 70,000 across all subspecies. There are about 11,000 mature reticulated giraffes in the wild. Populations are declining due to habitat loss and poaching.
A female giraffe is sexually mature at around 3-4 years and a male is mature around 4-5 years, although they don’t often start to breed until they reach the age of 7. Giraffes can give birth every 20-30 months and can continue to produce calves up to around 20 years of age. They give birth walking or standing up. A calf is usually born in the dry months (May-August). The gestation period of a female giraffe is about 14 months. The number of offspring is almost always one, though twins have occurred. At birth a calf weighs about 150 lbs and within twenty minutes is able to stand on wobbly legs. Within an hour after birth, the calf will begin to suckle and will continue to nurse for 12-14 months. Male calves can grow 3” per month. During their first few weeks, giraffe calves are particularly vulnerable to predators, so they remain hidden with their mothers standing guard nearby. Once they reach 3-4 weeks of age, the mothers steer their calves into groups called crèches. These groups are watched over by one or two adult females in turn, allowing the others to wander farther for forage.
What are they like?
Physical Description: The giraffe is the tallest land animal, with large males sometimes reaching 17-18 ft. Their long tongue can be 12-18” in length and extends the giraffe’s reach even higher into the canopy for feeding. The coat of the giraffe has brown blotches of various shades against a buff or white background. The coat pattern, along with geographic location, helps differentiate the different types of giraffe. These striking patterns may serve to break up the giraffe’s outline when feeding in wooded areas. Giraffes vary greatly in size and males can weigh between 1500-4000 lbs. Females are smaller and can range in size from 900 to 2000lbs.
Life Span: In the wild, giraffes can live 20-25 years. In zoos, giraffes can live 20-27 years, with the record being 39 years.
Diet: In the wild, reticulated giraffes are selective browsers, feeding primarily on a variety of acacia and combretum trees. Although mostly leaves and shoots are taken, giraffes also eat flowers, vines, and herbs. Females tend to be more selective than males due to their increased nutritional needs during reproduction. An average of 16-20 hours per day is spent feeding and up to 140 lbs of fresh foods are taken. At the Zoo, the giraffes eat alfalfa hay and ADF pellets twice a day, but usually they can eat as much as they want. They are given broad leaf acacia, apples, and carrots for treats.
Social Structure: Giraffes live in loose herds of up to 40 animals, and adult bulls typically range widely in search of females. When competing for a female, males fight by swinging their necks and heads at each other. Although this ritualized behavior—called “necking”—may look graceful, these blows can be powerful enough to knock one of the males off of their feet.
Habitat: Giraffes are found mainly in dry savannahs and open woodlands of eastern sub-Saharan Africa. They are usually associated with scattered acacia growth.
Where do they live?
Reticulated giraffes can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, southern Somalia, and southern Ethiopia.
Did you know?
- A giraffe's heart can be 2 ft long, weigh up to 27 lbs, and pump 60 gallons of blood every 3 minutes.
- When running, the giraffe's hind feet are swung in front of the forefeet, the head and neck swing rhythmically, and the tail is raised over its back. Giraffes can run up to 35 miles per hour although they can appear to be moving in slow motion due to the length of their stride. Giraffes can jump, although awkwardly, and can clear low fences. When walking, giraffes use a pacing gait due to the length of their legs.
- In defense, a giraffe will kick with its forefeet and is capable of delivering deadly blows. Their keen eyesight and unique vantage point allows them to see danger before many of the other herbivores, which is why they are often called the sentinels of the savannah.
- Giraffes are crepuscular, meaning they are active during twilight. They rest or ruminate during the heat of the day.
The Tallest Land Mammal on the Planet
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