AppearanceA fully grown giraffe is typically 5–6 m tall, with males taller than females. The average weight is 1,200 kg for an adult male and 830 kg for an adult female. The coat is made up of brownish blotches or patches separated by light hair. Each individual giraffe has a unique coat pattern. The coat pattern serves as camouflage, allowing it to blend in with the light and shade combinations of savanna woodlands. In particular, the patches may also serve as thermal windows, being sites for complex blood vessel systems and large sweat glands. Giraffes have thick skin which allows them to run through thorn bush without much injury.:34 Their fur may serve as a chemical defence, as it is full of parasite repellents that give the animal a characteristic scent. There are at least eleven main aromatic chemicals in the fur, although indole and 3-methylindole are responsible for most of the smell. Because the males have a stronger odour than the females, it is suspected that it also has a sexual function. Along the animal's neck is a brown mane made of short, stiff hairs. The tail has a tuft of long, dark hair at the end and is used to swat flies away.
The giraffe has fairly large eyes, which are located at both sides of the head and bulge outward, providing the animal good all-round vision from its great height.:25 Giraffes are capable of seeing in color:25 and their senses of hearing and olfaction are also advanced. The nostrils have muscular openings, which allow the animal to open and close them. This may serve to protect against sandstorms and the ants that inhabit the trees it feeds on.:27 The giraffe's tongue is about 50 cm long and prehensile.:27 It is purplish-black in color, perhaps to protect against sunburn, and is useful to gripping branches and stripping leaves as well as for grooming and cleaning the animal's nose.:27 The upper lip of the giraffe is also prehensile and can grasp foliage. The lips, tongue and inside of the mouth are covered in papillae to protect against thorns.
NamingThe name ''giraffe'' has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word الزرافة ''al-zirāfah'', perhaps from an African name. There were several Middle Eastern spellings such as ''jarraf'', ''ziraph'', and ''gerfauntz''. The Italian form ''giraffa'' arose in the 1590s from Arabic. It appears in English from the 16th century through the French ''girafe''. The species name ''camelopardalis'' is a Latin word, a romanization of the Greek καμηλοπάρδαλις, from κάμηλος , "camel", + πάρδαλις , "leopard". ''Kameelperd'' is also the name for the species in Afrikaans.
Among native Africans, the giraffe is known by many names, including::313 ''Ekorii'' , ''Kanyiet'' , ''Nduida'' , ''Tiga'' , ''Ndwiya'' , ''Nudululu'' , ''Ntegha'' , ''Ondere'' , ''Etiika'' , ''Kuri'' , ''Oloodo-kirragata'' or ''Olchangito-oodo'' , ''Lenywa'' , ''Hori'' , ''Lment'' , ''Geri'' and ''Twiga'' .Different authorities have recognized different numbers of subspecies, distinguished by size, coloration, coat pattern and range. Up to nine subspecies are recognized :
⤷ ''G. c. camelopardalis'', the nominate subspecies, is known as the Nubian giraffe. Its coat pattern has large, four-sided spots of chestnut brown on an off-white background, with no spots on the inner sides of the legs or below the hocks. It is found in eastern South Sudan and south-western Ethiopia. It is estimated that fewer than 250 remain in the wild, although this estimate is uncertain. It is rare in captivity, although a group is kept at Al Ain Zoo in the United Arab Emirates. In 2003, this group numbered 14.
⤷ ''G. c. reticulata'', known as the Reticulated or Somali giraffe, has a coat pattern of well-defined patches with sharp edges, separated by thin lines. It is native to north-eastern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia. It is estimated that no more than 5,000 remain in the wild, and based on ISIS records, more than 450 are kept in zoos.
⤷ ''G. c. angolensis'', the Angolan or Namibian giraffe has large spots with some notches around the edges, extending down the entire lower leg. It is found in northern Namibia, south-western Zambia, Botswana and western Zimbabwe. One genetic study on Smoky giraffes suggests that the northern Namib Desert and Etosha National Park populations form a distinct subspecies. It is estimated that no more than 20,000 remain in the wild; based on ISIS records approximately 20 are kept in zoos.
⤷ ''G. c. antiquorum'', the Kordofan giraffe, has smaller, more irregular spots on the inner legs than other giraffes. Its distribution includes southern Chad, the Central African Republic, northern Cameroon and north-eastern DR Congo. Populations in Cameroon were formerly included in ''G. c. peralta'', but this was incorrect. No more than 3,000 are believed to remain in the wild. Considerable confusion has existed over the status of this subspecies and ''G. c. peralta'' in zoos. In 2007 it was shown that all alleged ''G. c. peralta'' in European zoos were, in fact, ''G. c. antiquorum''. With this correction, based on ISIS records, approximately 65 are kept in zoos.
⤷ ''G. c. tippelskirchi'', known as the Maasai giraffe or Kilimanjaro giraffe, has an irregular pattern of jagged-edged patches. It can be found in central and southern Kenya and in Tanzania. It is estimated that no more than 40,000 remain in the wild, and based on ISIS records, approximately 100 are kept in zoos.
⤷ ''G. c. rothschildi'', is known variously as the Rothschild giraffe, Baringo giraffe or Ugandan giraffe. Its coat bears blotched or rectangular spots with poorly defined lines. Its legs are mostly white with no pattern. Its range includes Uganda and west-central Kenya, especially near Lake Baringo. It may also be found in South Sudan. The Rothschild giraffe had been considered a hybrid population, but genetic evidence confirms that it is a valid subspecies. Fewer than 700 are believed to remain in the wild, and based on ISIS records, more than 450 are kept in zoos.
⤷ ''G. c. giraffa'', the South African giraffe, has rounded or blotched spots, some with star-like extensions, running down to the hooves. It is found in northern South Africa, southern Botswana, southern Zimbabwe and south-western Mozambique. It is estimated that no more than 12,000 remain in the wild, and based on ISIS records, approximately 45 are kept in zoos.
⤷ ''G. c. thornicrofti'', called the Thornicroft giraffe or Rhodesian giraffe, has leaf-shaped spots extending to the lower leg. It is restricted to the Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia. No more than 1,500 remain in the wild, and based on ISIS records, none are kept in zoos.
⤷ ''G. c. peralta'', commonly known as the West African giraffe or Niger giraffe, has a light complexion, with rectangular spots. It is endemic to southern Niger. As fewer than 220 individuals remain in the wild, it is the rarest giraffe subspecies. Giraffes in Cameroon were formerly believed to belong to this subspecies, but are actually ''G. c. antiquorum''. This error resulted in some confusion over its status in zoos, but in 2007 it was established that all "''G. c. peralta''" kept in European zoos actually are ''G. c. antiquorum''.
Although giraffes from these populations interbreed freely in captivity, suggesting that they are subspecific populations, a 2007 study published in BMC Biology has suggested that there may be at least six species of giraffe that are reproductively isolated and do not interbreed, even though no natural obstacles, such as mountain ranges or impassable rivers, block their mutual access. The study deduced from genetic drift in nuclear and mitochondrial DNA that the two giraffe populations living closest to each other—the reticulated giraffe and the Maasai giraffe—separated genetically 0.13–1.62 mya. The implications of these findings for the conservation of giraffes were summarised by David Brown, lead author of the study, who told BBC News: "Lumping all giraffes into one species obscures the reality that some kinds of giraffe are on the brink. Some of these populations number only a few hundred individuals and need immediate protection."
StatusGiraffes were probably common targets for hunters thoughout Africa.:337 They were hunted for their tails, hides and meat. The tail hairs were used for flyswatters, braclets, necklaces and thread;:337 the skin for shields, sandals and drums and the the tendons as strings for instruments and as thread.:337 The smoke of burning giraffe skins was used by the medicine men of Buganda to treat nose bleeding.:337 European explorers also hunted them.:129 Habitat destruction has hurt the giraffe, too: in the Sahel, trees are cut down for firewood and to make way for livestock. Normally, giraffes can coexist with livestock, since they feed on the trees above the latter's heads.
Overall, the giraffe is assessed as Least Concern from a conservation perspective by the International Union for Conservation of Nature , as it is still widespread and lives in numerous reserves. However, giraffes have been extirpated from Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania and Senegal. They may also have disappeared from Angola, Mali, and Nigeria, but have been introduced to Rwanda and Swaziland. Two subspecies, the West African giraffe and the Rothschild giraffe, have been classified as endangered, as wild populations of each of them number in the hundreds. In 1997, Jonathan Kingdon suggested that the Nubian giraffe was the most threatened of all giraffes; as of 2010, it may number fewer than 250, although this estimate is uncertain. While giraffe populations have declined in western Africa, they are stable and expanding in southern Africa thanks to private game reserves. The giraffe is a protected species in most of its range. In 1999, the total wild giraffe population was estimated at over 140,000. However, estimates in 2010 indicate that fewer than 80,000 remain.
BehaviorWhile giraffes are usually found in groups, the composition of these groups is more fluid than in other social ungulates. They have few strong social bonds, and aggregations usually disband every few hours, although calving groups can last weeks or months. For research purposes, a "group" has been defined as "a collection of individuals that are less than a kilometre apart and moving in the same general direction." Giraffe groups usually consist of just a few members, although 40 or more occur on occasion. Adult males tend to be solitary. Female giraffes associate in groups of roughly a dozen, occasionally including a few younger males. Calves and subadults are rarely alone. Subadult males, in particular, are very social and engage in playfights. Giraffe groups with young tend to feed in more open areas, presumably to make it easier to detect predators, although it may reduce their feeding efficiency. Giraffes are not territorial, but they have home ranges. Male giraffes occasionally wander far from areas that they normally frequent.:329
HabitatGiraffes usually inhabit savannas, grasslands and open woodlands.
ReproductionReproduction is broadly polygamous: a few older males impregnate all the fertile females. Male giraffes assess female fertility by tasting the female's urine in order to detect estrus, in a multi-step process known as the Flehmen response. Once an estrous female is detected, the male will attempt to court her. Males prefer younger females, possibly because the latter are more fertile, while females prefer older, more dominant males. During courtship, dominant males will displace subordinate ones from the presence of the females by staring and walking towards them. The female prolongs the courtship process for as long as possible, so only the most dominant male remains to mate with. During copulation, the male stands on its hind legs with its head sticking straight up and its front legs resting loosely on the female's sides. Homosexual interactions have also been observed in giraffes. In one study, up to 94 percent of observed mounting incidents took place between males. The proportion of same-sex activities varied from 30–75 percent. Only one percent of same-sex mounting incidents occurred between females.
Although generally quiet and non-vocal, giraffes have been heard to communicate with various sounds. During courtship, males emit loud coughs. Females call their young by bellowing. Calves bleat, moo or make mewing sounds. Giraffes also snort, hiss, moan, make flute-like sounds, and communicate over long distances using infrasound.
FoodGiraffes usually inhabit savannas, grasslands and open woodlands. They prefer ''Acacia'', ''Commiphora'', ''Combretum'' and open ''Terminalia'' woodlands and are not as common in denser ''Brachystegia'' woodland.:322 The Angolan giraffe is known to inhabit desert environments. Giraffes browse on the twigs of trees, preferring trees of genera ''Acacia'', ''Commiphora'' and ''Terminalia''. They also feed on shrubs, grass and fruit.:323–24 A giraffe eats 65 lb of leaves and twigs daily, but can survive on just 15 lb .
During the wet season, food is abundant and giraffes disperse widely, but during the dry season they need to congregate around evergreen trees and bushes. As a ruminant, it first chews its food, then swallows it for processing and then visibly passes the half-digested cud up the neck and back into the mouth to chew again. This process is usually repeated several times for each mouthful. The giraffe requires less food than many other herbivores, because the foliage it eats has more concentrated nutrients and it has a more efficient digestive system. When feeding, it is common for a giraffe to produce excess saliva.:27 While the giraffe can survive without water, it will drink at intervals of three days or less when it has access. Giraffes can also get water from dew-covered green leaves.
Giraffes have a great effect on the trees that they feed on, delaying the growth of young trees for an extra year and forming "waistlines" around trees that are too tall.:325 Browsing by giraffes gives trees a globular or hourglass shape and limit bushes to less than 1 m high.:325 Feeding peaks during the first and last hours of daytime. In between those hours, a giraffe may pass the time standing and ruminating. Rumination is the dominant activity during the night, when it is mostly done lying down.
PredatorsHealthy adult giraffes are almost invulnerable to predation due to their size; a giraffe can defend itself with powerful kicks, which can kill a predator when well-placed. Calves, on the other hand, are preyed on by lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and wild dogs. A quarter to a half of giraffe calves reach adulthood. Maximum lifespan is around 25 years in the wild. Lions are capable of killing adult giraffes if they can make them fall over. In Kruger National Park, giraffes are commonly preyed on by lions. Nile crocodiles can also be a threat to giraffes when they bend down to drink.:31
Some parasites feed on giraffes. They are often hosts for ticks, especially in the area around the genitals, which has thinner skin than other areas. Tick species that commonly feed on giraffes are those of genera ''Hyalomma'', ''Amblyomma'' and ''Rhipicephalus''. Giraffes may rely on red-billed and yellow-billed oxpeckers to clean them of ticks and alert them to danger. Giraffes host numerous species of internal parasite and are susceptible to various diseases. They were victims of the viral illness rinderpest.
EvolutionThe giraffe is one of only two living species of the family Giraffidae, the other being the okapi. The family was once much more extensive, with over 10 fossil genera described. The ancestors of modern giraffids probably evolved 8 million years ago in south-central Europe during the Miocene epoch. The giraffids, together with the family Antilocapridae , evolved from the extinct family Palaeomerycidae. The earliest known giraffid was the deer-like ''Climacoceras''. While the progressive elongation of the neck and limbs can be traced to the early giraffids, it became more pronounced in later genera such as ''Samotherium'' and ''Bohlinia''. ''Bohlinia'' entered China and northern India in response to climate change. For here, the genus ''Giraffa'' evolved and, around 7 mya, entered Africa through Ethiopia. Further climate changes caused the extinction of the Asian giraffes, while the African ones survived and radiated into several new species. It is believed that the main driver for the evolution of the giraffes were the changes in biome from extensive forests to more open habitats, which began 8 mya. ''G. camelopardalis'' arose around 1 mya in East Africa during the Pleistocene. Some biologists suggest that the modern giraffe descended from ''G. jumae'' while others find ''G. gracilis'' a more likely candidate.
The giraffe was one of the many species first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. He gave it the binomial name ''Cervus camelopardalis'' in the 10th edition of his ''Systema Naturae''. Morten Thrane Brünnich classified the genus ''Giraffa'' in 1772. In the early 19th century, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck believed that the giraffe's long neck was an "acquired characteristic", developed as generations of ancestral giraffes strived to reach the leaves of tall trees. This theory was eventually rejected, and scientists now believe that the giraffe's neck arose through Darwinian natural selection—that ancestral giraffes with long necks thereby had a competitive advantage that better enabled them to reproduce and pass on their genes.
CulturalHumans have interacted with giraffes for millennia. The Bushmen of southern Africa have medicine dances named after some animals; the giraffe dance is performed to cure head ailments. Giraffes were subjects of art throughout the African continent, including those of the Kiffian, Egyptians and Meroë Nubians.:45–47 The Kiffian were responsible for a life-size rock engraving of two giraffes, which has been called the "world's largest rock art petroglyph".:45 The Egyptians gave the giraffe its own hieroglyph; its name being 'sr' in Old Egyptian and changing to 'mmy' in later periods.:49 They also kept giraffes as pets had them and exported them to ports around the Mediterranean.:48–49
The giraffe was also known to the Greeks and Romans, who believed that it was an unnatural hybrid of a camel and a leopard, and referred to as ''camelopardalis''.:50 The giraffe was among the many animals collected and displayed by the Romans. The first giraffe in Rome was imported by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and exhibited to the public.:52 With the fall of the Roman Empire, housing of giraffes in Europe declined.:54 During the Middle Ages, giraffes were only known to Europeans though legends from Arab travelers. Arab prophets and poets revered the giraffe for its peculiar appearence.
In 1414, a giraffe was taken from Malindi to Bengal. It was then taken to China by explorer Zheng He and placed in a Ming Dynasty zoo. The animal was a source of fascination and was considered it to be the mythical Qilin.:56 The Medici giraffe was a giraffe presented to Lorenzo de' Medici in 1486. It caused a great stir on its arrival in Florence, being reputedly the first living giraffe to be seen in Italy since antiquity. Another famous giraffe, called Zarafa, was brought from Egypt to Paris in the early 19th century. A sensation, Zarafa was the subject of numerous memorabilia or "giraffanalia".:81
Giraffes continue to have a presence in modern culture. Salvador Dalí depicted them in some of his surrealist paintings, most often in various states of conflagration. Dali considered the giraffe to be a symbol of masculinity, and a flaming giraffe was meant to be a "masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster".:123 Giraffes have also appeared in animated films, as minor characters in ''The Lion King'' and ''Dumbo'', and in more prominent roles in ''The Wild'' and in the ''Madagascar'' films. Sophie the Giraffe has been a popular teether since 1961.:127 Another famous fictional giraffe is the Toys "R" Us mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe.:127
The giraffe has also been used for some scientific experiments and discoveries. Its skin has been studied by NASA scientists developing suits for astronauts. The properties of the skin have been useful for these studies, since people this profession face the risk of passing out if blood rushes to their legs. Computer scientists have modeled the coat patterns of several subspecies using reaction–diffusion mechanisms. The constellation of Camelopardalis depicts a giraffe.:119–20
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