Giraffes are one of the most iconic animals in Africa. These fascinating mammals have evolved over 15 million years ago from antelope-like animals. Eventually to reach nutritious vegetation higher up, during times of greater competition between species they expand their necks longer.
The species we know today turned up around 1 million years ago. You may look at a Giraffe’s neck and wonder the amazing evolutionary adaptation, but that is not the only thing that’s fascinating about them.
Here are some less known yet amazing facts about them.
1. Giraffes are the tallest mammals on Earth. They tower up at a height of 4.3-5.7 meters or 14-19 feet. The legs alone are taller than many humans, about 6 feet. They also weigh at a hefty 850-1200kgs with maximum recorded weight of 1930kgs and 1180kgs for male and female respectively.
2. They can run as fast as 56kms an hour over short distances, or cruise at 16kms per hour over longer distances.
3. Although giraffes are very tall but, their neck is too short to reach the ground. They still only have seven vertebrae in the neck, which is the same amount as other animals. As a result, they need to spread their front legs or kneel down to reach the ground for a drink of water. It also make them very vulnerable to predators.
Fortunately, they only need to drink once every few days. Most of their water comes from all the plants they eat.
4. They spend most of their lives standing up, they even sleep and give birth standing up. They usually sleep for 5-30 minutes, but if feel safe they do sleep for up-to 4 hours.
5. Newborn calves are taller than a human. Even they can stand up on their feet in between half an hour and after 10 hours they can walk alongside their mother.
6. They have unique spots on their body. These are like human fingerprints and no two individual giraffes have exactly the same pattern.
7. Both males and females have two distinct, hair-covered horns called Ossicones. Male giraffes use their horns to fight with other males, the reason why males loose their hair and get bald. It is the simplest way to Identifying between males and females, because females have hairy horns.
8. Once thought that giraffes do not make any sounds, this is now known to be untrue. They bellow, snort, hiss and make flute-like sounds, as well as low pitch noises beyond the range of human hearing.
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9. Giraffes used to be known as Camel Leopards, due to their tall structure and leopard-like pattern which looks like a camel wearing a leopard skin. In fact, their scientific name is Giraffe Camelopardalis.
10. They have bluish tongue which can grow as long as 45cm (nearly 20 inches). The Acacia tree leaves are favorite of them but, these leaves are generally protected by very sharp thrones. Here they use their long tongue to reach the leaves avoiding the thrones and the thick saliva prevents the tongue from being cut. Also to mention, their tongue are sunburn proof.
11. Giraffes have sharp 5.9-inch hooves which can cause a lot of damage. They may look innocent vegetarian but could even kill a lion if necessary with their hooves. But, they run from the attack rather than fight back.
12. When they are seen rubbing and smashing their necks against one another, they are competing to see who is stronger. Known as Necking, it is a practice between males.
13. Males and females eat from different parts of the same tree. It is to prevent competition between them.
14. Because of their long neck, Giraffes have a highly-specialized cardiovascular system. Their heart is two feet long and weighs up to 11kgs. It is used to pump 60 liters of blood around its body every minute at a blood pressure twice that of an average human. In addition, the jugular veins contain a series of one way valves that prevent excess blood flow to the brain when they lowers the head to drink.
The differences between the four species of giraffe are many, but one obvious visual difference exists between the Reticulated Giraffe and Maasai Mara Giraffe. Both of them are found in East Africa but their appearance is quite distinct. The patches on a Maasai Giraffe are noticeably darker and smaller and are separated by light brown lines, whereas the Reticulated Giraffes feature large orange-brown patches separated by thin white lines.
16. They lick and chew the bones of other animals. It is not easy being a vegetarian and that’s why you may be surprised to know that Osteophagy has been observed by the giraffe. Giraffe are not predators, so they don’t kill other animals, but their skeletons do require more calcium than they can get from plants.
17. It is not a fun fact, but this is the most important fact you need to be aware of. Wild Giraffes are sadly declining, mainly due to habitat loss caused by increasing agriculture. People still poach them for their tail hair, pelts and meat. They are now extinct in eight African countries including Guinea and Mali,and now only found in sub Saharan Africa considering a vulnerable species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) list.
There are many conservation groups leading and supporting to ensure their survival. We hope it won’t be a sad ending to become extinct like other long-necked other Jurassic ancestors.