Giraffe
Overview
The giraffe is an African even-toed ungulate
Even-toed ungulate
The even-toed ungulates are ungulates whose weight is borne about equally by the third and fourth toes, rather than mostly or entirely by the third as in odd-toed ungulates such as horses....

 mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

, the tallest of all extant land-living animal species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

, and the largest ruminant
Ruminant
A ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first compartment of the stomach, principally through bacterial actions, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again...

. Its scientific name, which is similar to its archaic English name of camelopard, refers to its irregular patches of color on a light background, which bear a vague resemblance to a leopard
Leopard
The leopard , Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its...

's spots, and its face, which is similar to that of a camel
Camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

. In addition to these features, the giraffe is noted for its extremely long neck and legs and prominent horns.
Encyclopedia
The giraffe is an African even-toed ungulate
Even-toed ungulate
The even-toed ungulates are ungulates whose weight is borne about equally by the third and fourth toes, rather than mostly or entirely by the third as in odd-toed ungulates such as horses....

 mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

, the tallest of all extant land-living animal species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

, and the largest ruminant
Ruminant
A ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first compartment of the stomach, principally through bacterial actions, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again...

. Its scientific name, which is similar to its archaic English name of camelopard, refers to its irregular patches of color on a light background, which bear a vague resemblance to a leopard
Leopard
The leopard , Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its...

's spots, and its face, which is similar to that of a camel
Camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

. In addition to these features, the giraffe is noted for its extremely long neck and legs and prominent horns. It stands 5 metre tall and has an average weight of 1200 kg (2,645.5 lb) for males and 830 kilograms (1,829.8 lb) for females. It is classified under the family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

 Giraffidae
Giraffidae
The giraffids are ruminant artiodactyl mammals that share a common ancestor with deer and bovids. The biological family Giraffidae, once a diverse group spread throughout Eurasia and Africa, contains only two living members, the giraffe and the okapi. Both are confined to sub-saharan Africa: the...

, along with its closest extant relative, the okapi
Okapi
The okapi , Okapia johnstoni, is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa...

. There are nine subspecies of giraffe, which differ in size, coloration, pattern and range.

The giraffe's range extends from Chad
Chad
Chad , officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west...

 in the north to South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 in the south and from Niger
Niger
Niger , officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east...

 in the west to Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 in the east, but it is very scattered. Giraffes usually inhabit savanna
Savanna
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...

s, grassland
Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

s and open woodland
Woodland
Ecologically, a woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of...

s. They prefer areas with plenty of acacia
Acacia
Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1773. Many non-Australian species tend to be thorny, whereas the majority of Australian acacias are not...

 trees, which are important food sources. Owing to their extreme height, giraffes can browse for vegetation that most other herbivores cannot reach. They are also nearly invulnerable to predation, although lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

s, leopards, spotted hyena
Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena also known as laughing hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species' prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save...

s and wild dogs prey on calves, and lions take adults in some areas. Although they commonly gather together, giraffe aggregations usually disband every few hours. Male giraffes use their necks to hit each other in combat, a behavior known as "necking". Males mate with multiple females. Females bear the sole responsibility for raising their young.

The giraffe has intrigued various cultures, both ancient and modern, for its peculiar appearance, and has often been featured in paintings, novels and cartoons. The giraffe is classified by the IUCN as Least Concern
Least Concern
Least Concern is an IUCN category assigned to extant taxon or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, Near Threatened, or Conservation Dependent...

. However, it has been extirpated from many parts of its former range, and some subspecies are classified as endangered. Nevertheless, giraffes are still found in numerous reserves.

Etymology and naming

The name giraffe has its earliest known origins in the Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 word الزرافة al-zirāfah, perhaps from an African name. There were several Middle Eastern spellings such as jarraf, ziraph, and gerfauntz. The Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 form giraffa arose in the 1590s from Arabic. It appears in English from the 16th century through the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 girafe. The species name camelopardalis is a Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 word, a romanization
Romanization
In linguistics, romanization or latinization is the representation of a written word or spoken speech with the Roman script, or a system for doing so, where the original word or language uses a different writing system . Methods of romanization include transliteration, for representing written...

 of the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 "καμηλοπάρδαλις", from "κάμηλος" (kamēlos), "camel", + "πάρδαλις" (pardalis), "leopard".

Taxonomy and evolution

The giraffe is one of only two living species of the family Giraffidae
Giraffidae
The giraffids are ruminant artiodactyl mammals that share a common ancestor with deer and bovids. The biological family Giraffidae, once a diverse group spread throughout Eurasia and Africa, contains only two living members, the giraffe and the okapi. Both are confined to sub-saharan Africa: the...

, along with the okapi
Okapi
The okapi , Okapia johnstoni, is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa...

. The family was once much more extensive, with over 10 fossil genera
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 described. An early ancestor of the giraffids was a 3 m (9.8 ft) tall antelope-like mammal that roamed Europe and Asia some 30–50 million years ago (mya) during the Eocene
Eocene
The Eocene Epoch, lasting from about 56 to 34 million years ago , is a major division of the geologic timescale and the second epoch of the Paleogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Eocene spans the time from the end of the Palaeocene Epoch to the beginning of the Oligocene Epoch. The start of the...

 epoch. Closer ancestors of modern giraffids probably evolved 8 mya in southern central Europe during the Miocene
Miocene
The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about . The Miocene was named by Sir Charles Lyell. Its name comes from the Greek words and and means "less recent" because it has 18% fewer modern sea invertebrates than the Pliocene. The Miocene follows the Oligocene...

 epoch. The Giraffidae, together with the family Antilocapridae (whose only extant species is the pronghorn
Pronghorn
The pronghorn is a species of artiodactyl mammal endemic to interior western and central North America. Though not an antelope, it is often known colloquially in North America as the prong buck, pronghorn antelope, or simply antelope, as it closely resembles the true antelopes of the Old World and...

), evolved from the extinct family Palaeomerycidae
Palaeomerycidae
Palaeomerycidae is an extinct family of ruminants , probably ancestral to deer and musk deer...

. The earliest known giraffid was the deer-like Climacoceras
Climacoceras
Climacoceras was a genus of early Miocene artiodactyl ungulates of Africa and Europe. The members of Climacoceras were related to giraffes, as the genus was once placed within Giraffidae. Fossils of the two best known species of Climacoceras, C. africanus and C. gentryi have been both found in...

. 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 Palaeotragus
Palaeotragus
Palaeotragus was a genus of very large, primitive okapi from the Miocene of Africa, Asia, and Europe.Palaeotragus primaevus is the older species, being found in early to mid-Miocene strata, while Palaeotragus germaini is found in Late Miocene strata.P. primaevus is distinguished from P. germaini...

(from which the okapi evolved), Samotherium
Samotherium
Samotherium is an extinct genus of giraffe from the Miocene and Pliocene of Eurasia and Africa. Samotherium had two ossicones on its head, and long legs. The ossicones usually pointed upward, and were curved backwards, with males having larger, more curved ossicones, though, in the Chinese...

and Bohlinia
Bohlinia
Bohlinia is an extinct genus of the artiodactyl family Giraffidae. It was first named by the paleontologist Dr. W. Matthew in 1929, and contains two species, B. adoumi and B. attica. The species B. attica has been reclassified several times since its description being first named Camelopardalis...

. Bohlinia entered China and northern India in response to climate change. Genus Giraffa
Giraffa
Giraffa is a genus of mammals in the Giraffidae family. The genus consists of seven species including the giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis, the only extant species.- Species :There are six species in the genus Giraffa....

evolved from it, with a number of long-necked species. Around 7 mya, Giraffa 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. The modern G. camelopardalis arose around 1 mya in East Africa during the Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

. Some biologists suggest that the modern giraffe descended from G. jumae
Giraffa jumae
Giraffa jumae is an extinct species of even-toed mammal in the Giraffidae family. The species ranged from Malawi to Chad with a possible occurrence of the species or a closely related species found in Turkey. The type specimen was discovered during trenching excavations on the upper member of the...

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 of
Cervus camelopardalis in the 10th edition
10th edition of Systema Naturae
The 10th edition of Systema Naturae was a book written by Carl Linnaeus and published in two volumes in 1758 and 1759, which marks the starting point of zoological nomenclature...

 of his Systema Naturae
Systema Naturae
The book was one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus. The first edition was published in 1735...

. Mathurin Jacques Brisson
Mathurin Jacques Brisson
Mathurin Jacques Brisson was a French zoologist and natural philosopher.Brisson was born at Fontenay-le-Comte. The earlier part of his life was spent in the pursuit of natural history, his published works in this department including Le Règne animal and Ornithologie...

 erected the genus Giraffa in 1762. In the early 19th century, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de la Marck , often known simply as Lamarck, was a French naturalist...

 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 most scientists now believe that the giraffe's neck arose though Darwinian natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

—that ancestral giraffes with long necks thereby had a competitive advantage that better enabled them to repoduce and pass on their genes.

Subspecies

Different authorities have recognized different numbers of subspecies
Subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

, differentiated by size, coloration, coat pattern and range. Some of these subspecies may prove to be separate species, as they appear to be reproductively isolated despite their mobility. Up to nine subspecies are recognized (with population estimates ):
  • 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 Sudan
    Sudan
    Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

     and northeastern DR Congo
    Democratic Republic of the Congo
    The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

    . It has been estimated that fewer than 250 remain in the wild, but little is known about this subspecies, and consequently this estimate is very uncertain. It is very rare in captivity, although a group is kept at Al Ain Zoo in the United Arab Emirates
    United Arab Emirates
    The United Arab Emirates, abbreviated as the UAE, or shortened to "the Emirates", is a state situated in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman, and Saudi Arabia, and sharing sea borders with Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Iran.The UAE is a...

    . In 2003, this group numbered 14.
  • G. c. reticulata, known as the Reticulated or Somali giraffe
    Somali Giraffe
    The Somali Giraffe, or more commonly known as Reticulated Giraffe , is a subspecies of giraffe native to Somalia, northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia...

    , has a coat pattern of well-defined patches that are usually bright orange-brown. These patches have sharp edges and are separated by bold, bright white lines. It ranges from northeastern Kenya
    Kenya
    Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

     to southern Ethiopia
    Ethiopia
    Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

     and Somalia
    Somalia
    Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

    . It has been estimated that fewer than 5,000 remain in the wild, but based on ISIS
    International Species Information System
    -External links:*...

     records, it is among the most common in zoos, in which there are more than 450.
  • G. c. angolensis, the Angolan or Smoky giraffe, has large spots with some notches around the edges, extending down the entire lower leg. It is found in southern Angola
    Angola
    Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

    , northern Namibia
    Namibia
    Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia , is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March...

    , southwestern Zambia
    Zambia
    Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

    , Botswana
    Botswana
    Botswana, officially the Republic of Botswana , is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa. The citizens are referred to as "Batswana" . Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name after becoming independent within the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966...

     and western Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...

    . One genetic study on Smoky giraffes suggests that the northern Namib Desert
    Namib Desert
    The Namib Desert is a desert in Namibia and southwest Angola that forms part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest game reserve in Africa. The name "Namib" is of Nama origin and means "vast place"...

     and Etosha National Park
    Etosha National Park
    Etosha National Park is a national park in the Kunene Region of northwestern Namibia. The park shares boundaries with the regions of Oshana, Oshikoto and Otjozondjupa....

     populations are a distinct subspecies. It has been estimated that fewer than 20,000 remain in the wild; based on ISIS records approximately 20 are kept in zoos.
  • G. c. antiquorum, the Kordofan giraffe
    Kordofan Giraffe
    The Kordofan Giraffe is a subspecies of giraffe found in northern Cameroon, southern Chad, Central African Republic and possibly western Sudan. Historically some confusion has existed over the exact range limit of this subspecies compared to the West African Giraffe, with populations in e.g....

    , has smaller, more irregular spots on the inner legs than other giraffes. Its distribution includes southern Chad
    Chad
    Chad , officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west...

    , the Central African Republic
    Central African Republic
    The Central African Republic , is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It borders Chad in the north, Sudan in the north east, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo in the south, and Cameroon in the west. The CAR covers a land area of about ,...

     and northern Cameroon
    Cameroon
    Cameroon, officially the Republic of Cameroon , is a country in west Central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon's coastline lies on the...

    . Populations in Cameroon were formerly included in G. c. peralta, but this was incorrect. Fewer 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 jagged-edged spots shaped like vine leaves. They are dark brown on a brownish-cream background, making it the darkest-colored subspecies. It occurs in central and southern Kenya and in Tanzania
    Tanzania
    The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

    . It is estimated that fewer 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
    Rothschild giraffe
    The Rothschild Giraffe is among the most endangered giraffe subspecies with only a few hundred members in the wild. It is named after the famous family of the Tring Museum's founder, Lord Walter Rothschild, and is also known as the Baringo Giraffe, after the Lake Baringo area of Kenya, or as the...

    , Baringo giraffe or Ugandan giraffe. Its coat bears blotched or rectangular spots that are deep brown with poorly defined cream lines. Its legs are mostly white with no pattern. Its range includes Uganda
    Uganda
    Uganda , officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East Africa. Uganda is also known as the "Pearl of Africa". It is bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by...

     and west-central Kenya, especially near Lake Baringo
    Lake Baringo
    Lake Baringo is, after Lake Turkana, the most northern of the Great Rift Valley lakes of Kenya, with a surface area of about and an elevation of about . The lake is fed by several rivers, El Molo, Perkerra and Ol Arabel, and has no obvious outlet; the waters are assumed to seep through lake...

    . It may also occur in South Sudan
    South Sudan
    South Sudan , officially the Republic of South Sudan, is a landlocked country located in the Sahel region of northeastern Africa. It is also part of the North Africa UN sub-region. Its current capital is Juba, which is also its largest city; the capital city is planned to be moved to the more...

    . The Rothschild giraffe has been considered a hybrid population, but genetic evidence has confirmed 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
    South African Giraffe
    The South African Giraffe is a subspecies of giraffe found in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique. It has rounded or blotched spots, some with star-like extensions on a light tan background, running down to the hooves....

    , has rounded or blotched spots, some with star-like extensions, on a light tan background, running down to the hooves. It is found in northern South Africa
    South Africa
    The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

    , southern Botswana, southern Zimbabwe and southwestern Mozambique
    Mozambique
    Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

    . It is estimated that fewer 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 star-shaped or leaf-shaped spots extending to the lower leg. It is restricted to the Luangwa Valley
    Luangwa River
    The Luangwa River is one of the major tributaries of the Zambezi River, and one of the four biggest rivers of Zambia. The river generally floods in the rainy season and then falls considerably in the dry season...

     in eastern Zambia. Fewer 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
    West African Giraffe
    The West African Giraffe, Niger Giraffe or Nigerian Giraffe is a subspecies of giraffe distinguished by its light colored spots, which is found in the Sahel regions of West Africa...

     or Nigerian giraffe, has numerous pale, yellowish red spots. It is endemic to southern Niger
    Niger
    Niger , officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east...

    . With fewer than 220 individuals remaining 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.


Formerly, the Kordofan and West African giraffes were regarded as a single subspecies, but genetic
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

 evidence has confirmed that they represent two separate subspecies. Scientists have proposed four other subspecies—Cape giraffe (G. c. capensis), Lado giraffe (G. c. cottoni), Congo giraffe (G. c. congoensis) and Transvaal giraffe (G. c. wardi)—but today none of them is widely accepted.
Although giraffes from these populations interbreed freely in captivity, suggesting that they are subspecific populations, genetic testing published in 2007 has been interpreted to show that there may be at least six species of giraffe that are reproductively isolated
Reproductive isolation
The mechanisms of reproductive isolation or hybridization barriers are a collection of mechanisms, behaviors and physiological processes that prevent the members of two different species that cross or mate from producing offspring, or which ensure that any offspring that may be produced is not...

 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
Genetic drift
Genetic drift or allelic drift is the change in the frequency of a gene variant in a population due to random sampling.The alleles in the offspring are a sample of those in the parents, and chance has a role in determining whether a given individual survives and reproduces...

 in nuclear
Nuclear DNA
Nuclear DNA, nuclear deoxyribonucleic acid , is DNA contained within a nucleus of eukaryotic organisms. In mammals and vertebrates, nuclear DNA encodes more of the genome than the mitochondrial DNA and is composed of information inherited from two parents, one male, and one female, rather than...

 and mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 that the two giraffe populations living closest to each other—the reticulated giraffe (G. camelopardalis reticulata) of north Kenya and the Maasai giraffe (G. c. tippelskirchi) of south Kenya and Tanzania—separated genetically between 0.13 and 1.62 million years ago.

The implications for conservation of as many as eleven such cryptic species and subspecies were summarised by David Brown for BBC News
BBC News
BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

: "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."

Anatomy and morphology

A fully grown giraffe is typically 5 metre tall, with males taller than females. The average weight is 1200 kg (2,645.5 lb) for an adult male and 830 kg (1,829.8 lb) for an adult female. The coat is made up of brown blotches or patches separated by lighter hair. Each giraffe has a unique coat pattern. The patches may serve as camouflage, since they mimic the dappled combination of light and shade in savanna woodlands. They may also serve as thermal
Thermoregulation
Thermoregulation is the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different...

 windows, being the site of large blood vessels and sweat glands. The giraffe's fur may serve as a chemical defence, as it is full of antibiotics and parasite repellents that give the animal a characteristic scent. There are at least eleven main aromatic chemicals in the fur, although indole
Indole
Indole is an aromatic heterocyclic organic compound. It has a bicyclic structure, consisting of a six-membered benzene ring fused to a five-membered nitrogen-containing pyrrole ring. Indole is a popular component of fragrances and the precursor to many pharmaceuticals. Compounds that contain an...

 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 black terminal tuft and is used to swat flies away. Compared with other ruminants, such as deer and cattle, the giraffe has proportionally larger eyes, with which it can locate food and distant predators from its great height. Giraffes also have color vision, enabling them to recognize each other.

The giraffe has the longest recurrent laryngeal nerve
Recurrent laryngeal nerve
The recurrent laryngeal nerve is a branch of the vagus nerve that supplies motor function and sensation to the larynx . It travels within the endoneurium...

, measuring around 15 ft (4.6 m). The nerve starts at the brain, runs down the length of the neck and crosses over a blood vessel at the top of the heart before lopping back of the neck and ends at the larynx. The brain of a giraffe is only 1.5 lb (680.4 g). It is relatively small for the animal's size, probably due to the length of the neck, as it would take more energy to supply oxygen to a larger brain at the end of a long neck. The shape of the skeleton limits the static lung volume of the giraffe. It's long neck and narrow windpipe give it a high amount of dead space. These factors further prolong the time it takes to inhale and exhale a single breath. Nevertheless, this does not appear to compromise the animal's ability to supply oxygen to tissues. The gallbladder
Gallbladder
In vertebrates the gallbladder is a small organ that aids mainly in fat digestion and concentrates bile produced by the liver. In humans the loss of the gallbladder is usually easily tolerated....

 is not present in giraffes, expect in unborn animals. It disappears by the time it is born.

Skull and horns

Both sexes have prominent horns, or ossicone
Ossicone
Ossicones are horn-like protuberances on the heads of giraffes, male okapis, and their extinct relatives, such as Sivatherium, and the climacoceratids, such as Climacoceras. Only giraffids have true ossicones...

s, formed from ossified cartilage and covered in skin. The horns are fused to the skull at the parietal bone
Parietal bone
The parietal bones are bones in the human skull which, when joined together, form the sides and roof of the cranium. Each bone is roughly quadrilateral in form, and has two surfaces, four borders, and four angles. It is named from the Latin pariet-, wall....

s. The appearance of the horns is a reliable method of identifying the sex of giraffes: the horns of females display tufts of hair on top, whereas those of males are larger and tend to be bald on top. There is also a median horn, which is more developed in males, at the anterior of the skull. Males sometimes develop calcium deposits that form bumps on their skull as they age, sometimes giving the appearance of additional horns. The horns are well vascularized
Vascular
Vascular in zoology and medicine means "related to blood vessels", which are part of the circulatory system. An organ or tissue that is vascularized is heavily endowed with blood vessels and thus richly supplied with blood....

 and may also have a thermoregulatory function. A giraffe's skull is lightened by sinuses
Sinus (anatomy)
Sinus is Latin for "bay", "pocket", "curve", or "bosom". In anatomy, the term is used in various contexts.A sinus is a sack or cavity in any organ or tissue, or an abnormal cavity or passage caused by the destruction of tissue...

. However, as males get older, their skulls become heavier and more club-like, helping them become more dominant in combat.

Legs, locomotion and posture

The front legs of a giraffe are about 10 percent longer than its hind legs. The radius
Radius (bone)
The radius is one of the two large bones of the forearm, the other being the ulna. It extends from the lateral side of the elbow to the thumb side of the wrist and runs parallel to the ulna, which exceeds it in length and size. It is a long bone, prism-shaped and slightly curved longitudinally...

 and ulna
Ulna
The ulna is one of the two long bones in the forearm, the other being the radius. It is prismatic in form and runs parallel to the radius, which is shorter and smaller. In anatomical position The ulna is one of the two long bones in the forearm, the other being the radius. It is prismatic in form...

 of the front legs are articulated by the carpus
Carpus
In tetrapods, the carpus is the sole cluster of bones in the wrist between the radius and ulna and the metacarpus. The bones of the carpus do not belong to individual fingers , whereas those of the metacarpus do. The corresponding part of the foot is the tarsus...

 which, while structurally equivalent to the human wrist, functions as a knee. True knees exist in the hind legs. The hooves are quite large: up to 15 cm (5.9 in) across in males and up to 10 cm (3.9 in) across in females.

A giraffe has only two gait
Gait
Gait is the pattern of movement of the limbs of animals, including humans, during locomotion over a solid substrate. Most animals use a variety of gaits, selecting gait based on speed, terrain, the need to maneuver, and energetic efficiency...

s: walking and galloping. Walking is done by moving the legs on one side of the body at the same time, then doing the same on the other side. The apparent inflexibility of its legs give it a stiff gait when walking. When galloping, the giraffe's front and hind legs work in pairs. The animal brings its hind legs ahead of and outside its front legs. It then lifts the front legs and pushes off with the hind legs, propelling it forward. The giraffe can reach a sprint speed of up to 60 km/h (37.3 mph) but cannot sustain a lengthy chase.

A giraffe prefers to rest lying with its legs folded underneath its body. To lie down, the animal kneels on its front legs and then lowers the rest of its body. To get back up, it gets on its front "knees" and swings its head up with a jerk as the front legs straighten. It then splays its hind legs and raises its hindquarters. The giraffe has one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, averaging only 4.5 or 4.6 hours of sleep per day. It can sleep lying down with its neck folded and its head resting on the rump or hind leg. If it wants to bend down to drink, the giraffe either spreads its front legs or bends its "knees".

Giraffes are assumed to be unable to swim
Aquatic locomotion
Swimming is biologically propelled motion through a liquid medium. Swimming has evolved a number of times in a range of organisms ranging from arthropods to fish to molluscs.-Evolution of swimming:...

. It has been estimated that the giraffe's proportionally larger limbs have very high rotational inertias that would make rapid swimming motions strenuous. A swimming giraffe would be forced into a posture where the neck is sub-horizontal, and since the thorax would be pulled downwards by the large fore limbs, it would not be able to move the neck and limbs synchronously in the water, as it does when moving on land. This might further hamper the animal's ability to move its limbs effectively under water. A computer simulation conducted by Scientific American
Scientific American
Scientific American is a popular science magazine. It is notable for its long history of presenting science monthly to an educated but not necessarily scientific public, through its careful attention to the clarity of its text as well as the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics...

suggested that, while a giraffe could float, "they would be clumsy and unstable in water". The simulation suggests that the high density of the giraffe's limb bones would make it slow and cause it to experience high drag. Furthermore, the weight of the forelimbs and shoulder would pull the front of the giraffe down, straining its neck.

Neck

The giraffe has an extremely elongated neck, which can be over 2 m (6.6 ft) in length, accounting for nearly half of the animal's vertical height. The long neck results from a disproportionate lengthening of the cervical vertebrae
Cervical vertebrae
In vertebrates, cervical vertebrae are those vertebrae immediately inferior to the skull.Thoracic vertebrae in all mammalian species are defined as those vertebrae that also carry a pair of ribs, and lie caudal to the cervical vertebrae. Further caudally follow the lumbar vertebrae, which also...

, not from the addition of more vertebrae. The cervical vertebrae comprise about 45 to 50 percent of the giraffe's vertebral column
Vertebral column
In human anatomy, the vertebral column is a column usually consisting of 24 articulating vertebrae, and 9 fused vertebrae in the sacrum and the coccyx. It is situated in the dorsal aspect of the torso, separated by intervertebral discs...

, compared with the 30 percent typical of similar large ungulates, including the giraffe’s closest living relative, the okapi. This elongation, which occurs in large part after birth, is a 150 percent increase in vertebrae length over similar sized animals. Both the giraffe's head and neck are held up by large muscles and a nuchal ligament
Nuchal ligament
The paxwax or nuchal ligament is a fibrous membrane, which, in the neck, represents the supraspinal ligaments of the lower vertebræ...

 which are supported by the long dorsal spines of the anterior thoracics, forming a shoulder hump. This is similar to the design of a crane
Crane (machine)
A crane is a type of machine, generally equipped with a hoist, wire ropes or chains, and sheaves, that can be used both to lift and lower materials and to move them horizontally. It uses one or more simple machines to create mechanical advantage and thus move loads beyond the normal capability of...

.

Furthermore, the point of articulation between the cervical and thoracic vertebrae of giraffes is shifted to lie between the first and second thoracic vertebrae
Thoracic vertebrae
In human anatomy, twelve thoracic vertebrae compose the middle segment of the vertebral column, between the cervical vertebrae and the lumbar vertebrae. They are intermediate in size between those of the cervical and lumbar regions; they increase in size as one proceeds down the spine, the upper...

 (T1 and T2), rather than between the seventh cervical vertebra (C7) and T1, as in most other ruminants. This allows C7 to contribute directly to increased neck length and has given rise to the suggestion that T1 is actually C8, and giraffes have added an extra cervical vertebra. However, this proposition is not generally accepted, as T1 has other morphological features, such as an articulating rib
Rib
In vertebrate anatomy, ribs are the long curved bones which form the rib cage. In most vertebrates, ribs surround the chest, enabling the lungs to expand and thus facilitate breathing by expanding the chest cavity. They serve to protect the lungs, heart, and other internal organs of the thorax...

, deemed diagnostic of thoracic vertebrae, and because exceptions to the mammalian limit of seven cervical vertebrae are generally characterized by increased neurological anomalies
Neurological disorder
A neurological disorder is a disorder of the body's nervous system. Structural, biochemical or electrical abnormalities in the brain, spinal cord, or in the nerves leading to or from them, can result in symptoms such as paralysis, muscle weakness, poor coordination, loss of sensation, seizures,...

 and maladies, symptoms that have not been observed in giraffes.

There are two main hypotheses regarding the evolutionary origin and maintenance of elongation in giraffe necks. The "competing browsers
Browsing (predation)
Browsing is a type of herbivory in which an herbivore feeds on leaves, soft shoots, or fruits of high growing, generally woody, plants such as shrubs. This is contrasted with grazing, usually associated with animals feeding on grass or other low vegetation...

 hypothesis" was originally suggested by Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 and only challenged recently. It suggests that competitive pressure from smaller browsers, such as kudu
Kudu
The kudus are two species of antelope of the genus Tragelaphus:*Lesser Kudu, Tragelaphus imberbis*Greater Kudu, Tragelaphus strepsiceros- Etymology :...

, steenbok
Steenbok
The Steenbok, Raphicerus campestris, is a common small antelope of southern and eastern Africa. It is sometimes known as the Steinbuck or Steinbok.- Description :...

, and impala
Impala
An impala is a medium-sized African antelope. The name impala comes from the Zulu language meaning "gazelle"...

, drove the elongation of the neck so giraffes could reach food that competitors could not. This advantage is real, as giraffes can and do feed up to 5 m, while even quite large competitors, such as kudu, can only feed up to about 2 m (6.6 ft). There is also research suggesting that browsing competition below 2 m is intense, and giraffes feed more efficiently (gaining more leaf biomass per bite) higher in the canopy. However, scientists disagree about just how much time giraffes spend feeding at levels beyond the reach of other browsers. Although giraffes can feed as low as 0.5 m (1.6 ft) and as high as 6 m (19.7 ft) above the ground, it appears that they most often feed at 2 metre.

The other main theory, the sexual selection
Sexual selection
Sexual selection, a concept introduced by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, is a significant element of his theory of natural selection...

 hypothesis, proposes that the long necks evolved as a secondary sexual characteristic
Sexual dimorphism
Sexual dimorphism is a phenotypic difference between males and females of the same species. Examples of such differences include differences in morphology, ornamentation, and behavior.-Examples:-Ornamentation / coloration:...

, giving males an advantage in "necking" contests (see below) to establish dominance and obtain access to sexually receptive females. In support of this theory, males have longer and heavier necks than females of the same age, and necking is the only form of combat recorded in male giraffes. Males in this species do not employ biting, kicking, butting or head wrestling, as do other mammals, including the okapi. However, one criticism of this theory is that it fails to adequately explain why female giraffes also have long necks.

Circulatory system

The circulatory system
Circulatory system
The circulatory system is an organ system that passes nutrients , gases, hormones, blood cells, etc...

 of the giraffe has several adaptations for its great height. Its heart, which can weigh more than 24 lb (10.9 kg) and measure about 60 cm (2 ft) long, must generate approximately double the blood pressure required for an average large mammal to maintain blood flow to the brain. In the upper neck, a complex pressure-regulation system called the rete mirabile
Rete mirabile
A rete mirabile is a complex of arteries and veins lying very close to each other, found in some vertebrates. The rete mirabile utilizes countercurrent blood flow within the net...

 prevents excess blood flow to the brain when the giraffe lowers its head to drink. The jugular vein
Jugular vein
The jugular veins are veins that bring deoxygenated blood from the head back to the heart via the superior vena cava.-Internal and external:There are two sets of jugular veins: external and internal....

s also contain several (most commonly seven) valves to prevent blood flowing back into the head from the inferior vena cava
Inferior vena cava
The inferior vena cava , also known as the posterior vena cava, is the large vein that carries de-oxygenated blood from the lower half of the body into the right atrium of the heart....

 and right atrium
Right atrium
The right atrium is one of four chambers in the hearts of mammals and archosaurs...

 while the head is lowered. Conversely, the blood vessels in the lower legs are under great pressure (because of the weight of fluid pressing down on them). In other animals such pressure would force the blood out through the capillary walls; giraffes, however, have a very tight sheath of thick skin over their lower limbs, which maintains high extravascular pressure.

Habitat and feeding

Giraffes usually inhabit savanna
Savanna
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...

s, grassland
Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

s and open woodland
Woodland
Ecologically, a woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of...

s. They are most common in Acacia
Acacia
Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1773. Many non-Australian species tend to be thorny, whereas the majority of Australian acacias are not...

, Commiphora
Commiphora
Commiphora is a genus of flowering plants in the family Burseraceae. It includes about 185 species of trees and shrubs, often armed or thorny, native to Africa, Arabia, and the Indian subcontinent.-Uses:...

, Combretum
Combretum
The bushwillows or combretums, Combretum, make up the type genus of the family Combretaceae. The genus comprises about 370 species of trees and shrubs, roughly 300 of which are native to tropical and southern Africa, about 5 to Madagascar, some 25 to tropical Asia and approximately 40 to tropical...

and open Terminalia
Terminalia (plant)
Terminalia is a genus of large trees of the flowering plant family Combretaceae, comprising around 100 species distributed in tropical regions of the world. This genus gets it name from Latin terminus, referring to the fact that the leaves appear at the very tips of the shoots.Trees of this genus...

woodlands and much less common in denser Brachystegia
Brachystegia
Brachystegia is a genus of tree of the sub-family Caesalpinioideae that is native to tropical Africa. Trees of the genus are commonly known as Miombo, and are the predominant tree in the Miombo woodlands of central and southern Africa.-Species:...

woodland. Giraffes browse on the twigs of trees, preferring trees of genera Acacia, Commiphora and Terminalia. They also feed on shrubs and eat grass and fruit. The tongue and lips are tough enough to allow them to feed on trees with sharp thorns. The giraffe's tongue is about 45 cm (17.7 in) long and prehensile, so it can grasp leaves and pull them into the mouth. A giraffe can eat 65 lb (29.5 kg) of leaves and twigs daily, but can survive on just 15 lb (6.8 kg).

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. The giraffe uses its lower incisor teeth to "comb" leaves from trees while browsing. 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 typical grazing animals, because the foliage it eats has more concentrated nutrients, and it has a more efficient digestive system. Compared with domestic cattle, giraffes have a relatively short small intestine and a relatively long large intestine, giving it a small ratio of small to large intestine. The giraffe can survive without water for extended periods. When water is available, it may drink at intervals of three days or less. Giraffes can also get water from green leaves, especially when covered in dew
Dew
[Image:Dew on a flower.jpg|right|220px|thumb|Some dew on an iris in Sequoia National Park]]Dew is water in the form of droplets that appears on thin, exposed objects in the morning or evening...

.

Giraffes have great effects on the trees that they browse on, keeping young trees short for a year longer than usual and forming waistlines around trees whose tops are unreachable. Browsing by giraffes also gives trees a globular or hourglass shape and keeps bushes down to less than 1 m (3.3 ft). Feeding periods peak during the first and last hours of daylight. 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.

Social structure and breeding habits

While 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 gregarious and may 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 territoral, but they have home range
Home range
Home range is the area where an animal lives and travels in. It is closely related to, but not identical with, the concept of "territory".The concept that can be traced back to a publication in 1943 by W. H. Burt, who constructed maps delineating the spatial extent or outside boundary of an...

s. Male giraffes occasionally wander far from areas that they normally frequent.

Reproduction is broadly polygamous, with a few older males impregnating 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
Flehmen response
The flehmen response , also called the flehmen position, flehmen reaction, flehming, or flehmening , is a particular type of curling of the upper lip in ungulates, felids, and many other mammals, which facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into the vomeronasal organ, also called the...

. 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 subordinates 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 slides its forelegs loosely on the female's flanks and stands upright. 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 between 30 and 75 percent, and at any given time one in twenty males were engaged in non-combative necking behavior with another male. 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. Courting males emit loud coughs. Females call their young by whistling or bellowing. Calves bleat, moo or make mewing sounds. Giraffes also grunt, snort, hiss, make strange flute-like sounds, and communicate over long distances using infrasound
Infrasound
Infrasound is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz or cycles per second, the "normal" limit of human hearing. Hearing becomes gradually less sensitive as frequency decreases, so for humans to perceive infrasound, the sound pressure must be sufficiently high...

. To produce an infrasound signal, a giraffe usually lowers its chin and then quickly raises it.

Birthing and parental care

Giraffe gestation
Gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 lasts between 400 and 460 days, after which a single calf is normally born, although twins occasionally occur. The mother gives birth standing up, and both amniotic sac
Amniotic sac
The amniotic sac is the sac in which the fetus develops in amniotes. It is a tough but thin transparent pair of membranes, which hold a developing embryo until shortly before birth. The inner membrane, the amnion, contains the amniotic fluid and the fetus. The outer membrane, the Chorion,...

 and umbilical cord
Umbilical cord
In placental mammals, the umbilical cord is the connecting cord from the developing embryo or fetus to the placenta...

 usually break when the newborn falls to the ground. A newborn giraffe has a fragile neck and it is thus important that its legs break the fall. A newborn giraffe is about 1.8 m (5.9 ft) tall. Within a few hours of birth, the calf can run around and is indistinguishable from one a week old; however, for the first two weeks, it spends most of its time lying down, guarded by the mother. Their coat pattern provides camouflage
Camouflage
Camouflage is a method of concealment that allows an otherwise visible animal, military vehicle, or other object to remain unnoticed, by blending with its environment. Examples include a leopard's spotted coat, the battledress of a modern soldier and a leaf-mimic butterfly...

 when they are hiding. The horns, which have lain flat since it was in the womb, become erect within a few days.

Mothers with calves will gather in nursery herds, usually consisting of two or more infants and/or juveniles and their mothers moving or browsing together. Mothers in such a group may sometimes leave their calves with one female while they travel to other areas. This is known as a "calving pool". Calves appear to have strong social bonds, facilitating social cohesion in nursery groups. Males play almost no role in raising the young. The young are vulnerable to predators. A mother giraffe will stand over her young and kick at a predator that comes near. Giraffes only defend their own young; they form calving herds for selfish reasons. A mother has a strong maternal bond with her calf, lasting until her next calving. Calves suckle for 13 months and continue to associate with their mothers for another 2–5 months.

Necking

Male giraffes use their necks to hit each other in combat, a behavior known as "necking". Necking is used to establish dominance and can occur at low or high intensity. In low intesity necking, the combatants gently rub their heads and necks together and lean heavily against each other, while flapping their ears and rubbing shoulders, perhaps to assess their comparative weights. The winner of such a bout is the male that can hold itself more erect. In high intensity necking, the combatants aim blows at each other's rump, flanks or neck. To prepare to strike, a giraffe will straddle with its front legs, draw its neck sideways and swing upward and downward over the shoulder, attempting to hit its opponent with its horns. The contestants try to avoid being hit by moving their necks at the last moment and then get ready to counter. The power of a blow depends on the weight of the skull and the intensity of the swing. An outmatched opponent is almost immediately dislodged, but combatants that are more evenly matched can keep up for over half an hour. At the end of such a bout, the winner will mount his opponent in a show of dominance. It appears that males that are successful in necking have greater access to estrous
Estrous cycle
The estrous cycle comprises the recurring physiologic changes that are induced by reproductive hormones in most mammalian placental females. Estrous cycles start after puberty in sexually mature females and are interrupted by anestrous phases or pregnancies...

 females, so the length of the neck may be a product of sexual selection
Sexual selection
Sexual selection, a concept introduced by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, is a significant element of his theory of natural selection...

.

Mortality

Because of their size, adult giraffes are almost invulnerable to predation. Calves, on the other hand, are preyed on by lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

s, leopard
Leopard
The leopard , Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its...

s, spotted hyena
Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena also known as laughing hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species' prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save...

s and wild dogs. Lions are capable of killing adult giraffes if they can make them fall over and then secure a bite on the throat or nose. In Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers and extends from north to south and from east to west.To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is...

, giraffes of any age are an important food source for lions. Nile crocodile
Nile crocodile
The Nile crocodile or Common crocodile is an African crocodile which is common in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Gabon, South Africa, Malawi, Sudan, Botswana, and Cameroon...

s may also take giraffes when they bend down to drink. A giraffe can defend itself with powerful kicks which can kill a predator when well-placed. Some parasites also feed on giraffes. Tick
Tick
Ticks are small arachnids in the order Ixodida, along with mites, constitute the subclass Acarina. Ticks are ectoparasites , living by hematophagy on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians...

s are known to infest them, 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
Hyalomma
Hyalomma is a genus of hard-bodied ticks, common in Asia, Europe, and Hyalomma is a genus of hard-bodied [[tick]]s, common in [[Asia]], [[Europe]], and...

, Amblyomma
Amblyomma
Amblyomma is a genus of hard ticks. Some are disease vectors, for example for Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Brazil or ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis in the USA....

and Rhipicephalus
Rhipicephalus
Rhipicephalus is a genus of tick.-Species:* Rhipicephalus annulatus Say, 1821* Rhipicephalus appendiculatus Neumann 1901* Rhipicephalus aquatilis Walker, Keirans & Pegram, 1993* Rhipicephalus armatus Pocock, 1900...

. Giraffes have mutual relationships with red-billed
Red-billed Oxpecker
The Red-billed Oxpecker, Buphagus erythrorhynchus, is a passerine bird in the starling and myna family Sturndidae; some ornithologists regard the oxpeckers to be in a family by themselves, the Buphagidae. It is native to the savannah of sub-Saharan Africa, from the Central African Republic east to...

 and yellow-billed oxpecker
Yellow-billed Oxpecker
The Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Buphagus africanus, is a passerine bird in the starling and myna family Sturnidae; some ornithologists regard the Oxpeckers to be a separate family, the Buphagidae . It is native to the savannah of sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal east to Sudan...

s, which clean them of ticks and alert them to danger. Numerous species of internal parasite feed on giraffes, and they are susceptible to various diseases, most commonly the viral illness Rinderpest
Rinderpest
Rinderpest was an infectious viral disease of cattle, domestic buffalo, and some other species of even-toed ungulates, including buffaloes, large antelopes and deer, giraffes, wildebeests and warthogs. After a global eradication campaign, the last confirmed case of rinderpest was diagnosed in 2001...

. A quarter to a half of giraffe calves reach adulthood. Maximum lifespan is around 25 years in the wild and 28 years in captivity.

Cultural significance

In Africa, the giraffe was revered as a religious symbol, kept as a pet and traded as a diplomatic offering of goodwill. The Bushmen
Bushmen
The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, are variously referred to as Bushmen, San, Sho, Barwa, Kung, or Khwe...

 had medicine dances named after some animals; the giraffe dance was performed to cure head aliments. Giraffes were commonly depicted in rock and cave art thoughout the continent. Some of the earliest of these pictures were made by the palaeolithic Kiffian
Kiffian culture
Kiffian is the name given by archaeologists to a prehistoric culture thriving between about 10,000 and 8,000 years ago in the Sahara Desert. This was during a wet period of Saharan history known as the Neolithic Subpluvial...

 people, who lived around 8000 BC in modern-day Niger. The Kiffian were responsible for a life-size rock engraving of two giraffes, which has been called the "world's largest rock art petroglyph". The Ancient Egyptians
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 commonly depicted giraffes in tomb paintings and may have kept them as pets. The Egyptians shipped giraffes from East Africa and exported them from Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 to ports around the Mediterranean. Giraffes were also known to the Ancient Greeks
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and the Ancient Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, who referred to them as camelopardalis, a name thought to have derived from the belief that the giraffe was an unnatural cross between a camel and a leopard. The giraffe was among the many animals collected and displayed by the Romans as exotic spoils of conquered lands. The first giraffe in Rome was imported by Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 and exhibited to the public.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the people of Europe were no longer able to keep and display giraffes. During the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, giraffes were mostly forgotten by Europeans, except in legends from Arab travelers. Arab prophets and poets considered the giraffe the "queen of beasts" for what they saw as its delicate features and fragile form. Eastern sultans prized them as special pets. In 1414, a giraffe was taken from Malindi
Malindi
Malindi is a town on Malindi Bay at the mouth of the Galana River, lying on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. It is 120 kilometres northeast of Mombasa. The population of Malindi is 117,735 . It is the capital of the Malindi District.Tourism is the major industry in Malindi. The city is...

 (in what is now Kenya) to Bengal
Bengal
Bengal is a historical and geographical region in the northeast region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the sovereign land of People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous...

. It was then taken to China by explorer Zheng He
Zheng He
Zheng He , also known as Ma Sanbao and Hajji Mahmud Shamsuddin was a Hui-Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral, who commanded voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa, collectively referred to as the Voyages of Zheng He or Voyages of Cheng Ho from...

 and placed in a Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 zoo. Its arrival caused a sensation, as it was thought to be the mythical Qilin
Qilin
The Qilin is a mythical hooved Chinese chimerical creature known throughout various East Asian cultures, and is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a wise sage or an illustrious ruler. It is a good omen that brings rui . It is often depicted with what looks like fire all over...

. The Medici giraffe
Medici giraffe
The Medici giraffe was a giraffe presented to Lorenzo de Medici in 1486 possibly by al-Ashraf Qaitbay, the Burji Mamluke sultan of Egypt, in an attempt to win the support of the Medici....

 was a giraffe presented to Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici was an Italian statesman and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic during the Italian Renaissance. Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent by contemporary Florentines, he was a diplomat, politician and patron of scholars, artists and poets...

 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
Zarafa
Zarafa was a giraffe given to Charles X of France by Muhammad Ali of Egypt. She was a female giraffe in a menagerie in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris for 18 years in the early 19th century...

, was brought from Egypt to Paris in the early 19th century. A sensation, Zarafa was the subject of numerous memorabilia or "giraffanalia".

Giraffes continue to have a presence in modern culture. Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech, Marquis de Púbol , commonly known as Salvador Dalí , was a prominent Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueres,Spain....

 depicted them in some of his surrealist paintings, most often in various states of conflagration
Conflagration
A conflagration or a blaze is an uncontrolled burning that threatens human life, health, or property. A conflagration can be accidentally begun, naturally caused , or intentionally created . Arson can be accomplished for the purpose of sabotage or diversion, and also can be the consequence of...

. Dali considered the giraffe to be a symbol of masculinity, and a flaming giraffe was meant to be a "masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster". Giraffes have also appeared in animated films, as minor characters in The Lion King
The Lion King
The Lion King is a 1994 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 32nd feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series...

and Dumbo
Dumbo
Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released on October 23, 1941, by RKO Radio Pictures.The fourth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, Dumbo is based upon the storyline written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl for the prototype of a...

, and in more prominent roles in The Wild
The Wild
The Wild is a 2006 computer-animated film directed by Steve "Spaz" Williams, produced by Clint Goldman, assistant produced by Jim Burton and C.O.R.E...

and in the Madagascar films. Sophie the Giraffe
Sophie the Giraffe
Sophie the Giraffe is a teether – a toy for teething babies to chew on – in the form of a 7-inch-high hevea rubber giraffe.- History :...

 is a popular teether
Teether
A teether is a soothing tool for infants that are going through the phase of teething.The European Commission's Scientific Committee announced that they are banning phthalate softeners in baby toys, because of toxic residue in six phthalate that were used in the manufacture of baby toys such as...

 that has been a favorite toy for babies since 1961. Another famous fictional giraffe is the Toys "R" Us mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe.

The giraffe has also been used for some scientific experiments and discoveries. Its skin has been studied by scientists developing suits for astronauts and fighter pilots. The properties of the skin have been useful for these studies, since people in these professions 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
Constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

 of Camelopardalis
Camelopardalis
Camelopardalis is a large but faint constellation in the northern sky. The constellation was introduced in 1612 by Petrus Plancius. Some older astronomy books give an alternative spelling of the name, Camelopardus.-Etymology:...

 depicts a giraffe.

Conservation status

Giraffes were probably a favorite target for the hunters of the Sahara
Sahara
The Sahara is the world's second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over , it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean...

, the Kalahari and those of central and eastern Africa. They were hunted for their tails, hides and meat. The tails were used as good luck charms, for thread and as flyswatter
Flyswatter
A flyswatter is a hand-held device for killing flies and other insects. A flyswatter usually consists of a small rectangular sheet of lightweight, flexible, vented material, usually thin metallic, rubber, or plastic mesh, attached to a lightweight wire or plastic handle about long...

s; the skin was used for shields, sandals and drums; the tendons were used for stringed instruments and thread; the hairs were used to make necklaces and bracelets. The smoke of burning giraffe skins was prescribed by the medicine men of Buganda
Buganda
Buganda is a subnational kingdom within Uganda. The kingdom of the Ganda people, Buganda is the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda, comprising all of Uganda's Central Region, including the Ugandan capital Kampala, with the exception of the disputed eastern Kayunga District...

 as a cure for persistent nose bleeding. European explorers also hunted them. In addition to hunting, habitat destruction has also hurt the giraffe: in the Sahel
Sahel
The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian Savannas in the south.It stretches across the North African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea....

, trees are cut down for firewood and to make way for livestock. Normally, giraffes can coexist with livestock, since they feed in the trees above their heads.

Overall, the giraffe is assessed as Least Concern
Least Concern
Least Concern is an IUCN category assigned to extant taxon or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, Near Threatened, or Conservation Dependent...

 from a conservation perspective by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as it still is widespread and occurs in numerous reserves. However, giraffes have been extirpated from many parts of their former range, including Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso – also known by its short-form name Burkina – is a landlocked country in west Africa. It is surrounded by six countries: Mali to the north, Niger to the east, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and Côte d'Ivoire to the southwest.Its size is with an estimated...

, Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

, Guinea
Guinea
Guinea , officially the Republic of Guinea , is a country in West Africa. Formerly known as French Guinea , it is today sometimes called Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighbour Guinea-Bissau. Guinea is divided into eight administrative regions and subdivided into thirty-three prefectures...

, Malawi
Malawi
The Republic of Malawi is a landlocked country in southeast Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on the east, south and west. The country is separated from Tanzania and Mozambique by Lake Malawi. Its size...

, Mauritania
Mauritania
Mauritania is a country in the Maghreb and West Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, by Western Sahara in the north, by Algeria in the northeast, by Mali in the east and southeast, and by Senegal in the southwest...

 and Senegal
Senegal
Senegal , officially the Republic of Senegal , is a country in western Africa. It owes its name to the Sénégal River that borders it to the east and north...

. They may also have disappeared from Angola
Angola
Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

, Mali
Mali
Mali , officially the Republic of Mali , is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Mali borders Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d'Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Its size is just over 1,240,000 km² with...

 and Nigeria
Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

. Two subspecies, the West African giraffe
West African Giraffe
The West African Giraffe, Niger Giraffe or Nigerian Giraffe is a subspecies of giraffe distinguished by its light colored spots, which is found in the Sahel regions of West Africa...

 and the Rothschild giraffe
Rothschild giraffe
The Rothschild Giraffe is among the most endangered giraffe subspecies with only a few hundred members in the wild. It is named after the famous family of the Tring Museum's founder, Lord Walter Rothschild, and is also known as the Baringo Giraffe, after the Lake Baringo area of Kenya, or as the...

, have been classified as endangered
Endangered species
An endangered species is a population of organisms which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters...

, as wild populations of each of them number in the hundreds. In 1997, Jonathan Kingdon suggested that the Nubian giraffe is the most threatened of all giraffes; , it may number fewer than 250, but little recent information is available and consequently that estimate is the subject of considerable uncertainty. 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 African giraffe population was estimated at over 140,000. However, estimates in 2010 indicate that fewer than 80,000 remain.

External links

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