Unusual features/differences from similar
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
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
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.
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
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.