The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an extremely peculiar animal occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. The species carries a series of world records: for once, it is the tallest living terrestrial animal. Males can reach a height of up to 6 m and some individuals weigh more than 1.9 tons! The most striking feature of giraffes is the very long neck which enables them to feed from trees and higher bushes. However, this neck also necessitates a very strong heart pumping the blood all the way up into the giraffe’s brain. Indeed, the measured blood pressure is the highest of all mammals!
Giraffes feed mostly on twigs or leaves which they pull off from the trees with their strong up to 50 cm long tongue. In general, the animals devour 30 kg of foliage a day which leads to a long 16 to 20 hours of feeding each day! In contrast, giraffes do not have to drink a lot and can stay without water for a few weeks. Drinking is actually very uncomfortable as they have to spread their legs considerably to be able to reach the ground. This also leads to a lot of blood rushing down into the head. Consequently, giraffes feed on grass only if no other food is available.
In general, the animals like to stand. Even after mating and another 14 to 15 months of gestation, the birth takes place standing. That means, that the young baby giraffe’s first impression of the world is a vertical fall of two metres. Shortly after birth, the young giraffes have a lot of enemies: hyenas, wild dogs, leopards, and lions. Once they reach their adult size after six years, however, only few predators will take on a fight with a giraffe defending itself with powerful kicks. Then individuals can become up to 35 years old (~ 25 years in the wild).
Depending on the geographic distribution and colour patterns, scientists differentiate a series (6 to 11) of subspecies. The benefit of the meshwork of white lines on a brown background is generally believed to be an increased camouflage in the savannah. Nevertheless, it also helps in regulating the body temperature as an artery lies beneath each white ring. By increasing the blood circulation inside these arteries, the giraffes can emit excess body heat.
I have photographed these interesting animals in the Waterberg and Etosha national parks in Namibia during a journey in February 2007. I hope you like the photographs – as usual, you may click on them for a larger view!