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11 September 2020

It’s all about Giraffe!

Ranger Tammy

Hi everyone! Welcome back to another blog.

One of the animals that is on the top of most tourist’s “to see” list, when they are visiting Africa and going on safari, is a Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis).

And why not? These beautiful, majestic animals are most certainly worth the effort to find and photograph.

With the males growing up to six metres tall, and the females growing up to five metres tall, the Giraffe is Africa’s tallest animal, and they are in fact the tallest living terrestrial (land living) animal in the world.

Tower of Giraffe

Although Giraffe all look almost exactly alike, there are nine different sub-species found throughout Africa:

  • Southern African Giraffe – Occurs in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and Swaziland.
  • Thornicroft’s Giraffe – Occurs in Eastern Zambia.
  • Rothschild’s / Ugandan / Baringo Giraffe – Occurs in Uganda and North Central Kenya.
  • Angolan / Smokey Giraffe – Occurs in Angola and Western Zambia.
  • Masai / Kilimanjaro Giraffe – Occurs in Central to Southern Kenya and in Tanzania.
  • Nubian Giraffe – Occurs in North-Eastern Congo and Eastern Sudan.
  • Kordofan Giraffe – Occurs in Sudan.
  • Reticulated / Somali Giraffe – Occurs in Somalia, Ethiopia, and North-East Kenya.
  • West African / Nigerian Giraffe – Occurs in Chad.

The sub-species of Giraffe merely differ with shades of colour and spot shapes / patterns; however, they are all ultimately classified as one species.

Looking at a herd of Giraffe you will also notice that each individual’s spot pattern differs; much like our fingerprints and the stripes of a Zebra.

At first glance, watching Giraffe feed amongst tall trees, you may wonder how to identify the males from the females. Although they look extremely alike, it is really quite simple.

The easiest tell-tale sign is to look at their Ossicones.

Ossicones are the ‘horn-like’ structures on the top of their heads. These structures are solid bone and an extension of their scull.

Males fight amongst themselves for breeding rights with females. They will use their Ossicones to hit the necks and bodies of the opposing males often resulting in loud clashing noises resonating across the open plains. As a result, the males’ Ossicones become rather large and bulky and the black tufts of hair that were once coating the tips of the Ossicones ultimately falls out, leaving a shiny, bald, bony surface.

Females on the other hand, never fight. Their Ossicones are quite thin, and the black tufts of hair on the tips of the Ossicones are very neat and paintbrush-like.

When there are many Giraffe together in one area it becomes easier to tell male and female apart as you will notice in general, the males have much broader necks than the females and their heads can be marginally larger as well. It can be confusing to sex young male Giraffes at times as they can look very much like females still having the black tufts of hair on their Ossicones.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “Is it true that a Giraffe has the same number of vertebrae in their neck as we do?”

This is one hundred percent true! I know it sounds crazy, but their vertebrae are merely a lot larger than ours, resulting in both humans and giraffe having seven vertebrae bones in their necks.

Giraffe have 7 large vertebrae in their necks

As strange as it might sound, Giraffe are one of the only animals where their necks are too short for their bodies. Because of this they need to splay out their legs and bend them to reach low enough to drink water or to gain minerals by eating or chewing on soil or bones.

I have often seen Giraffe chewing on bones. They do this to get extra phosphorus and calcium in their diets that they need to strengthen their bones. This is referred to as Osteophagy.

Giraffe get most of the moisture they require from the leaves that they eat, so being lucky enough to see one go down to a waterhole and drink is truly something to be appreciated. They tend not to do this very often as it leaves them vulnerable.

With a heart that weighs up to twelve kilograms, a Giraffe’s heart beats up to three times per second giving them an extraordinarily high blood pressure and because of this Giraffe have developed a specialised selection of valves to prevent any sudden changes in pressure as well as to prevent damage to any organs, particularly the brain.

They have a network of capillaries bunched at the base of the brain – almost like an extra organ – which absorb and reduce the blood pressure while the head is lowered. Another interesting name for these capillaries is a ‘Blood Sponge’. They also have two specialised sets of valves in their necks, the first set is located inside the carotid artery going to the brain – this restricts the blood flow when the head is lowered – ultimately reducing pressure. The second set of valves is situated in the veins leading from the brain to the heart which controls the blood flow when their head is up, and also prevents blood from returning to the brain when their head is lowered.

Speaking in simpler terms, these valves prevent the blood from draining too fast which can cause blackouts, enabling giraffe to stay conscious when they quickly raise their heads while they drink or when sparring (when two male giraffe fight for dominance).

Contrary to popular belief, when a giraffe gives birth, it’s really not as bad as you think. Yes, the baby does have some way to go, but the mother does bend down quite a bit to accommodate the birth, leaving the calf about a meter to drop which snaps the umbilical cord and kick-starts the lungs. With an average height of one and a half meters and a weight of one hundred kilograms, this fall isn’t quite so drastic for the new baby.

Giraffe calves will spend much of their time laying down as they are very wobbly on their legs for the first few days after their birth. It’s very rare to see adults laying down as it makes them incredibly vulnerable, but if they feel safe enough, they will.

Note the Giraffe laying down on the left

Watching giraffe feed is fascinating, the way they nibble specific shoots off trees and wrap their long, purplish-blue tongue around branches and pull all the leaves off, leaving the thorns behind.

Their thick tongues are up to 45 – 50 centimetres long, enabling them to be able to reach the highest of leaves – the dark colouring gives their tongue extra protection from the sun.

One of the many things that amazes me about giraffe is that it always seems that they are moving in slow motion, even when running at speeds of up to fifty-five kilometres an hour these majestic animals just move gracefully across the horizon.

A fun fact to remember about giraffe is when you see a group of giraffe together and they are standing still, they are referred to as a Tower of Giraffe, and when you see a group of giraffe together and they are walking together, they are referred to as a Journey of Giraffe.

Tower of Giraffe

Thank you everyone for reading another one of my blogs. Remember to leave a comment below and feel free to leave suggestions / requests for future blogs.

Stay safe everyone.

Warm regards Ranger Tammy

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