giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) es a mammal African smooth-toed ungulate, the tallest of all animal species living on earth. It is related to deer and cattle, however, it is in a separate family, Giraffidae, consisting only of the giraffe and its closest relative, the okapi.

The giraffe's habitat extends from Chad to South Africa. Although the Okapi is much shorter than the giraffe, it also has a long neck and eats leaves, and both animals have long tongues and fur-covered horns. The ancestors of giraffes first appeared in central Asia around 15 million years ago, however the first fossil records of the giraffe itself, from Israel and Africa, date to about 1,5 million years ago.

Image of an adult giraffe

The adult giraffe can live in a herd or alone, they are not territorial animals.

Features

The giraffe is the tallest living animal that is instantly recognizable by its exceptionally long neck. Adult males are 4,6 to 6,0 meters tall, while females are 4 to 4,8 meters tall. Adult males weigh between 800 and 930 kilograms, while females weigh only 550 to 1180 kilograms. The giraffe has the longest tail of all land mammals. Its tail can be 2,4 feet (8 meters) long, including the plume at the end.

In addition to its great height, the giraffe is also one of the heaviest land animals. Exceptionally large males can weigh up to 1900 kilograms. Female giraffes are smaller, rarely reaching half that weight. Compared to other hoofed mammals, the giraffe has a relatively short body, yet its legs are disproportionately long.

A giraffe's front legs are 10% longer than its hind legs, a characteristic that contributes to animals leaning back sharply. Mature giraffes have large hooves the size of dinner plates, about a foot wide.

Behavior

The females associate in groups of a dozen or more members, occasionally including a few younger males. Males tend to live in single herds, and older males often lead solitary lives. An individual giraffe can join or leave the herd at any time and for no particular reason.

Because giraffes are so scattered they may appear to be out of contact with each other, however this is not true. A giraffe has keen vision that allows it to keep an eye on its neighbors even from a distance.

Female giraffes spend a little over half an hour a day browsing, males spend less time doing this - about 43% of the time that females do. Most of the night he lies down ruminating, especially in the hours after dark and before dawn. Male giraffes spend about 22% of their 24 hours walking, compared to 13% of female giraffes. The rest of the time male giraffes are looking for a female to mate with. Herds do not have a leader and individual herds show no particular preferences for the other members of the herd. The young are never left alone, however, they are cared for in a kind of nursery where the females help take care of the young.

Giraffes spend half of their time feeding and most of the rest are spent foraging for food or slowly digesting what they have eaten. Sometimes they sleep during the day, often on their feet. They usually go to bed only at night, tucking their feet under their bodies and keeping their heads upright. However, when a giraffe sleeps, something it does only for a few minutes at a time, it curls its neck around and rests its head on or near its back.

One of the most fascinating elements of giraffe behavior is the duel between males struggling to mate. Giraffe duels are some of the most extraordinary in the animal kingdom. Duels begin when two males come closer and rub and intertwine their necks. This behavior is known as "necking." Allows opponents to assess the size and strength of others.

Necking image

The so-called "necking" perpetuated by one giraffe to another.

Often making out alone is enough to establish dominance. If not, the rivals begin exchanging blows with their heads, using their short horns to attack each other.

Each giraffe supports its front legs and moves its head up and over your shoulder. If a blow lands solid, the giraffe may stagger under the impact and, in rare cases, even fall to the ground. More often, the contest is interrupted after a few minutes and the loser just leaves.

How much do giraffes sleep?

Giraffes do not need to sleep for long, in fact in the 50s scientists believed that giraffes did not sleep. Adult giraffes do not need to sleep more than two hours and do not usually spend more than seven minutes in a row sleeping.

How do giraffes sleep?

Giraffes sleep standing or lying down, although they usually do so standing up to react quickly to a predator. But sometimes it is possible to see them lying down, especially in babies or giraffes raised in captivity where they do not have problems with predators.

Giraffe lying down

Giraffe lying down

Habitat

Giraffes can inhabit savannas, grasslands or open forests, preferring areas enriched with acacia growth (a genus of shrubs and trees). Most live in East Africa or Angola and Zambia in southwestern Africa. Until the mid-XNUMXth century, giraffes were also common in West Africa, south of the Sahara. However, populations have declined dramatically and are increasingly fragmented.

Food

The giraffe lives in habitats where the food available varies throughout the year. During the dry season, giraffes eat evergreen leaves, however, once the rainy season begins, they change to new leaves and stems that sprout on the deciduous trees. Additionally, twigs and branches are pushed into the giraffe's mouth with their long, dexterous tongue. In nature, they can eat up to 66 kilograms of food a day.

When there is a choice, the male and female feed in different ways. Males concentrate on the leaves of the highest branches, while females arch their necks to eat closer to the ground. Due to this characteristic behavior, a giraffe can be identified as male or female from a long distance simply by its posture while eating. Male giraffes are also more likely to roam dense forests, a habitat that females generally avoid.

They drink large amounts of water and as a result, they can spend long periods of time in dry and arid areas. As they search for more food they will venture into areas with denser foliage. The giraffe has sturdy lips to ensure that its mouth is not injured when chewing on trees and twigs as thorns.

The captive giraffe generally feeds on hay and alfalfa pellets, apples, carrots, bananas, and alder (elm and alder are favorites).

Reproduction

The breeding season can occur at any time of the year. However, births in the wild generally occur during the dry season and captive births can occur throughout the year. Giraffes reach sexual maturity in captivity around 3-4 years of age, however, in the wild, males do not usually reproduce until 6-7 years of age. In contrast to the reproductive age of the male, females must be physically larger to have offspring.

Mating and birth

When the male giraffe is ready to breed, ritual combat for its mates begins. Giraffes are not territorial and a successful male giraffe will mate with receptive female giraffes when and where he finds them. The gestation period is usually 13-15 months and when a pregnant giraffe is ready to give birth, it heads to a calving area that it will use throughout its life. The moment of birth is dramatic, with the mother giraffe standing on all fours and the calf dropping to the ground. Surprisingly, the calf is rarely injured from its fall.

Breeding

Newborns are usually on their feet in 20 minutes and are soon feeding on breast milk. Calves can walk for about an hour after birth and can run within 24 hours of birth. Giraffe calves are approximately 2 meters tall at birth and weigh between 47 and 70 kilos. They grow about 3 centimeters tall each day for the first week and double in height in their first year.

At the age of one year, baby giraffe can be 10 feet tall. Giraffe calves are weaned at one year and become completely independent at 15 months of age. Female giraffe calves are fully grown by the age of five and male giraffe calves by the age of seven.

Youth and adulthood

Young giraffes can nurse for up to a year, however, they begin to sample the plants within a few weeks of being born. Giraffe calves are ready to leave their mother's protection after 15 to 18 months of development.

Adult giraffes generally have no more predators than lions and humans, as their huge hooves are very effective in defending themselves against predators. Giraffes are most vulnerable when lying down or drinking, because this gives the lions a chance to jump up and grab them by the nose or throat. Newborn calves are at much higher risk. Despite their mothers' efforts to protect them, more than 50 percent of all newborn giraffes are killed by hyenas and big cats such as lions and leopards during the first month of their lives.

2 giraffes walking

A young giraffe accompanied by her sister.

Predators

Living in the African savannah surrounded by expert carnivorous hunters is a game of chance in which anyone can lose. Giraffes do not have claws, sharp fangs, or pointed horns to protect themselves, but any animal that lives in the wild in such conditions has adaptations that allow it to survive.

Giraffes protect themselves from intruders with their legs. These are your primary and most powerful weapons that save you from death. The impact of a single kick to the head or a sensitive part of a predator is enough to kill it, but experienced predators are extremely cautious, and therefore know the exact moment to attack.

For this reason, giraffes are not the first choice of African carnivores when looking for food. They are a target only when other less dangerous prey is not available. It is not easy to catch an adult giraffe, so it is more common for injuries or offspring to become the center of attention while the mother is distracted.

Giraffes may seem peaceful, but they are not easy prey. They also have excellent eyesight so they can be very far away before a predator can get too close to them.

The only major predators of giraffes are lions, and they will look for young, weak giraffes first. They also target pregnant females who are ready to give birth, so they cannot move as quickly.

When the predators are a pride of lions, there is not much chance that one will get out alive no matter how large it is. These big cats attack from behind, riding the back of the giraffe and causing wounds with their fangs and claws to weaken them, while others try to bite the legs to knock them down and reach their neck, the key area to kill them.

An ideal time for predators who want to catch a giraffe is when they drink water from rivers and streams. During this activity, the neck is close to the ground so they can attack you there. On the aquatic side, the crocodiles try to catch them in this situation, since with a single bite they unbalance them forward to fall into the water. To avoid such acts, giraffes always take turns drinking water while others look around.

Defenses against predators

Healthy adults are less vulnerable to being killed by predators due to four important aspects:

  1. They are intimidating in size.
  2. They give deadly kicks, which predators fear.
  3. They are fast runners, so they are not easy to catch.
  4. They have excellent vision that allows them to react in time.

If a giraffe ends up kicking a predator, it can be seriously injured or killed, which is why not so many predators dare to attack a giraffe unless they find a young girl or are desperate for a meal, to the point of risking their lives. in her.

State of conservation

Like many of the large African mammals, the giraffe has declined in number and range over the past century. At one time, herds of more than 100 animals were common in savanna regions across the continent, however today such concentrations only exist in East Africa, particularly in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. .

The decline in the giraffe population is largely due to hunting. In Africa, the giraffe is a traditional source of skin and hair and also tough but nutritious meat. Giraffe hunting has not yet had a catastrophic effect, as in the case of some African big game animals, but it is cause for concern. The giraffe's natural habitat is also being increasingly impacted by human activities, reducing the animals' range.

The giraffe is currently a protected species throughout most of its range and is classified as conservation dependent by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Giraffes' prospects for survival are good for those living in national parks and game reserves, but for animals that live outside these areas the future is less certain.

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