Giraffe, Reticulated


Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata


Giraffes have buff background coloration broken by brown blotches. Their color grows darker with age and each giraffe has unique markings. Giraffes are the tallest of all animals and can reach up to 18 feet in height. Their shoulder height is up to 12 feet. Both male and female giraffes have horn-like projections called ossicones. Males weigh between 1700-4000 lbs. and females from 1200-2500 lbs.



Given the recent evidence of the potential to be four species of giraffe instead of one, we teamed up with Jacksonville University for part of The Science Of... collaboration to produce this video to explain why that may be the case. To learn more about what is discussed in the video, please view our companion guide.




Family

Giraffidae

Order

Artiodactyla

Class

Mammalia

Range

Northeastern Kenya, eastern Sudan and Eritrea

Habitat

Open woodlands and wooded grassland

Life Expectancy

25 years (up to 28 years in captivity)

Sexual Maturity

Giraffes reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age.

Diet

In the wild, they eat leaves and shoots of trees. In the Zoo, they are fed alfalfa hay, grain, browse, fruits, and vegetables.

Status

IUCN – Least Concern

Behaviors

Giraffes prefer young leaves and the shoots of trees, but will also eat flowers, vines and herbs. They eat over a hundred different species, depending on what is seasonally available. Acacia trees are one of their favorites. They spend an average of 16-20 hours per day feeding and consume up to 140 lbs. of browse during that period. Females stay in their mother’s territories. Males leave in all-male groups to search for females in heat. Males are distinguishable at a distance from females because of their different grazing habits. Males tend to stretch their necks to reach the tops of the taller trees while the females tend to bend over smaller trees. Giraffes can usually be found together in groups of 12-15. There are no permanent members of the group. Herds are led by an adult male (bull) and are composed of adult females (cows), calves, and sexually immature males. Females are usually the most alert to danger. When startled, a giraffe can gallop at speeds of up to 30 mph. The hind feet of a galloping giraffe reach in front of the fore feet and the animals swing their necks from side to side producing a slow-motion appearance. Giraffes vocalize by emitting moans or low notes. Observations in the wild indicate that they lie down only 5-6 hours per night. During most of this time, the animals remain alert with their necks erect and their eyes alternately opened and closed. Giraffes may go into a deep sleep for just 5 minutes each night. During deep sleep a giraffe bends its neck backward in an arch and rests its head behind its back legs or on an extended back leg. They protect themselves by kicking. Males fight for females during mating season by butting heads. Young males engage in a behavior called “necking.” To determine dominance, young bulls slowly intertwine their necks, pushing from one side to the other like a bout of arm wrestling amongst humans. The gestation period for giraffes is about 15 months. Breeding can occur throughout the year and a single calf is born, rarely twins. Calves are usually 6 feet tall and can stand up 20 minutes after birth. Females are excellent mothers and defend their calves vigorously. Lions are the principal predators of calves, although hyenas, leopards and even wild dogs may also kill newborns up to three months of age. Fifty percent of calves die within the first six months. Mortality in the second and third year drops to about 8% and about 3% per annum in adults. Male calves are weaned at approximately 15 months. Female calves are weaned a couple of months later. There is no difference in the mortality rate between male and female calves.

Adaptions

The coloration of the giraffe, with its blotches, helps them to blend in with shadowy tree branches. Giraffes have keen senses of smell and vision. Their well-developed senses have caused them to be considered one of the most vigilant of the big game species. For this reason, it is not unusual to see groups of very young calves, some with umbilical stump still attached, apparently abandoned by mothers in the middle of the day. The collective vigilance of these groups is very acute, and predators are largely inactive during the heat of the day. Females benefit by being able to visit distant feeding grounds without having to spend time on the care of their offspring, resulting in good lactation. Their legs are so long that they cannot touch the ground with their nose by simply bending over. Because giraffe necks and legs are so long, their vascular systems are specially equipped with valves to prevent blood from draining from their brains. They have a long prehensile, muscular tongue, thick gluey saliva and a special upper palate shape which enables them to process thorny foods. Because of their infrequent use of water, they can range widely and are sometimes found many miles from water.

Special Interests

Folklore

In ancient times, the giraffe was called a camelopard because it was thought to be a cross between a camel and a leopard. The ancient pharaohs would present giraffes to their allies as gifts.

Conservation

Giraffe are still common in East and South Africa. However, they have been eliminated from much of their former ranges in western Africa and the southern Kalahari. Giraffes were nearly eliminated from East Africa at the turn of the century by non-native hunters and rinderpest, a disease believed to be introduced by cattle imported to Africa. Today giraffes are found in national parks and areas outside of those parks. While it is illegal to hunt giraffe in most African countries, poaching still occurs. Giraffes are killed for food and for their long black tail hairs, which are used to make fly swatters, trinkets, and bracelets. Some people feel that with continued human population growth wild giraffes may some day be found only within the confines of Africa’s national parks.

Jacksonville Zoo History

Over the years, the Zoo has had several kinds of giraffes. The first arrived in December 1957 after it was purchased from a German animal dealer named Hagenbeck. The first giraffe in our collection was a male named “Long John.”

Exhibit

Giraffe Outlook Exhibit Area