Giraffe - Giraffa cameloperdalis

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Afrikaans Kameelperd
Zulu Ndhlulamithi Shangaan Nthutlwa

wpe2F.jpg (7849 bytes)

F 20 cm
H 17 cm


2 cm
Longer in bulls than in cows
Scattered, tapered at one end and blunt at the other

Unusual features/differences from similar animals

Southern Africa's tallest mammal.

Visible Male/Female Differences

Males are larger and darker than females. Males have thicker horns, and have a lump on the forehead. The horn tips are bald in males and old females while hairy in younger females.

Habitat and Distribution

Does not occur where the canopy is closed and prefers woodland. Giraffe do not need water if fresh green foliage is available.


An exclusive browser. Giraffe eat leaves, flowers, pods, shoots  and fruits. Thorn trees are the most important source of food. They can eat fruit from monkey oranges and sausage trees which are poisonous to humans.


The giraffe is the only ruminant with gestation longer than a year (457 days) and single calf weighing 100kg is born every 16-25 months and at any time of the year. Shoulder height of newborn at birth is 1,5 m. The calf begins to eat plants at 2 weeks and is weaned at 6-8 months. Interval between births  months. Young are sexually mature at 4-6 years and the lifespan is up to 20 years in females. Cows leave the herd to give birth in cover. Calves can stand within a hour and lie hidden for 1-3 weeks. Calves may form nursery groups with an old female as a babysitter while their mothers graze up to 3 km away. A social bond exists between mother until the birth of her next calf. Calves suffer heavy predation and first year mortality can be over 40%.

Behavior and Habits

Giraffe are most active in the early morning and late afternoon but they will also feed at night in bright moonlight. They will stand in the shade during the heat of the day and rest at night lying down and sleep for only a few minutes at a time. They eat by stripping leaves from branches between their teeth and twigs and branches are pulled into the mouth with the long tongue. Freshly grown twigs are bitten off, chewed and swallowed with the thorns still on. Each tree is browsed for only 2-5 minutes after which the giraffe moves on to the next tree. This is done to avoid tannin poisoning which the trees release into their leaves to protect themselves. When feeding on flowers of knobthorn they act as pollenators and carry pollen from tree to tree as they feed.

Giraffe can reach up to about 5,5 m and bulls tend to feed at full stretch with their necks vertical and their heads tipped upwards. Cows feed with their heads tipped downwards and their necks angled forward. Giraffe will drink if water but can survive without it.

Females and offspring occur in herds of about 10 and young males form small bachelor groups. Mature bulls are nearly always alone unless they want to mate. Fights begin with twisting the necks around each other and then striking at the opponent's legs and body with the head. The sound of the impacts can be heard some distance away and can result in broken jaws and necks or knock a fighter unconscious. Home ranges are about 25 square km but much larger in areas with poor feed. High-ranking bulls intimidate challengers standing with their necks nearly vertical to exaggerate their height and size.  Lions are the main predators of giraffe although they are wary of being kicked which can cripple, break jaws or even kill lions.


Giraffe are usually silent. They bellow, grunt or snort when alarmed, as when confronted by lions, and can also moo in distress. 

Dung and Field sign

Droppings are dark pellets, 3cm long, tapered at one end and blunt at the other, more scattered than those of antelope due to the long drop. Browsing by giraffe often prunes trees into an hourglass shape.

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