Welcome to the eighteenth edition of Shakati Bush Facts. In this edition we will be focusing on our famous Giraffes. Giraffes are fascinating animals due to its massive size, and in this article we will shed some light on some of the details around them.
Where does the name Giraffe come from?
The Giraffe name was first used in Arabia and comes from the word zarāfah meaning fast-walker. The Italians used the name giraffe around 1590s and the English name was used from around 1600 and were derived from Camelopard which were a combination of Greek words meaning camel and leopard.
The South African giraffe or Cape giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa) is a subspecies of giraffe ranging from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique.
It’s a common misconception that there are only one subspecies of Giraffes when there is in fact NINE different Giraffe subspecies. These include:
- Giraffe camelopardarlis giraffe – South African giraffe found in South Africa, southern Botswana, southern Zimbabwe and Mozambique
- Giraffe camelopardarlis camelopardalis – Nubian giraffe found in Sudan and Ethiopia.
- Giraffe camelopardarlis reticulata – Reticulated or Somali giraffe found in Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia
- Giraffe camelopardarlis angolensis – Angolan or Namibian giraffe found in northern Namibia, south-western Zambia, Botswana and western Zimbabwe
- Giraffe camelopardarlis antiquorum – Kordofan giraffe found in southern Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon and DR Congo
- Giraffe camelopardarlis tippelskirchi – Masai or Kilimanjaro giraffe found in Kenya and Tanzania
- Giraffe camelopardarlis rothschildi – Rothschild, Baringo or Ugandan giraffe found in Uganda and Kenya
- Giraffe camelopardarlis thornicrofti -Thornicroft or Rhodesian giraffe, found only in Luangwa Valley in Zambia
- Giraffe camelopardarlis peralta – West African or Nigerian giraffe
There are seven extinct Giraffe subspecies which includes: Giraffa gracilis, Giraffa jumae, Giraffa Priscilla, Giraffa punjabiensis, Giraffa pygmaea, Giraffa sivalensis and Giraffa stillei
Giraffe is easily identifiable, as it is the tallest land mammal on earth. The males reach on average a height of 5.5 metres and the females around 4.5 metres. The Giraffe has the following identification features: Skin Covered Horns, Very long neck, Long Legs, Relatively short body, White Lower Legs, Split Hooved Feet, Large Pointy Ears, Brown Spots on tanned background (Male giraffes become darker as they age) (Each individual giraffe has a unique coat pattern), Long Tail with Tufted end, Weighs around 800-1200 kg, Running Speed 55 km/h and the Purplish-black Tongue length is about 45 cm long.
Giraffes spoor is a distinct square-toed print. Giraffes are prone to broken limbs caused by slipping on wet surfaces. Giraffes see in color and their senses of hearing and smell are also sharp
Giraffes feed easily on the top foliage of trees, which is not accessible to other herbivores, due to their very long necks. They use their long purplish tongue to pull leaves and pods from the stems. Their tongues have the ability to wrap around thorns as well, which enable them to eat the succulent leaves from thorn bushes. They also feed on shrubs, grass and fruit in times of drought.
Their primary source of food is leaves, fruits and flowers of woody plants, primarily acacia and monkey apple species, which they browse at heights most other herbivores cannot reach
The Acacia trees are important sources of calcium and protein to sustain the giraffe’s growth rate. A giraffe eats around 34 kg of foliage daily. When stressed, giraffes may chew the bark off branches. Although herbivorous, the giraffe has been known to visit carcasses and lick dried meat off bones.
The giraffe requires less food than many other herbivores because the foliage it eats has more concentrated nutrients and it has a more efficient digestive system. When it has access to water, a giraffe drinks at intervals no longer than three days. Giraffes have a great effect on the trees that they feed on, delaying the growth of young trees for some years and giving “waistlines” to trees that are too tall. Feeding is at its highest during the first and last hours of daytime. Between these hours, giraffes mostly stand and ruminate. Rumination is the dominant activity during the night, when it is mostly done lying down
Habitat and Distribution
The South African Giraffe (Giraffe camelopardarlis giraffe) occurs in Northern South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. They have been introduced in many other regions in South Africa, especially on private game reserves.
Giraffes prefer savannahs and open woodlands for habitat where food plants are easily available
Giraffes are usually found in groups; however, there is no group bonding. Youngsters stay with a few adult females and the males are nomadic and move between groups of females. Because Giraffes do not have a fixed breeding season, males are always wandering in search of receptive females.
Although generally quiet and non-vocal, giraffes have been heard to communicate using various sounds. During courtship, males emit loud coughs. Females call their young by bellowing. Calves will emit snorts, bleats, mooing and mewing sounds. Giraffes also snore, hiss, moan, grunt and make flute-like sounds. During nighttime, giraffes appear to hum to each other above the infrasound range for purposes which are unclear.
Giraffes may be preyed on by lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and African wild dogs
The male’s fight for dominance and for the right to mate with females, via process called necking. They use their long muscular necks to strike at an opponent’s body and wrestle by twining their necks around each other. The loser is pushed off balance and the encounters very rarely lead to serious injury. This behavior occurs at low or high intensity. In low intensity necking, the combatants rub and lean against each other. The male that can hold itself more erect wins the bout. In high intensity necking, the combatants will spread their front legs and swing their necks at each other, attempting to land blows with their ossicones. . The power of a blow depends on the weight of the skull and the arc of the swing. A necking duel can last more than half an hour, depending on how well matched the combatants are
The giraffe’s “horns” however, are not antlers — they are permanent outcroppings of bone from the skull, called “ossicones.” Giraffes are born with them, and they are covered with hair (except for adult males, who wear away the fur at the end). Males have no hair tufts on their horns because they fight with the horns and the hairs are worn of. The females always have nice tufts on their horns.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature announced in 2016 that it was moving the giraffe from a species of Least Concern to Vulnerable status in its Red List of Threatened Species report. That means the animal faces extinction in the wild in the medium-term future if nothing is done to minimize the threats to its life or habitat. Giraffes are still found in numerous national parks and game reserves but estimations as of 2016 indicate that there are approximately 97,500 members of Giraffa in the wild, with around 1,144 in captivity.
Giraffes are fascinating creatures, and as part of nature conservation we are committed in protecting these vulnerable animals. When you walk in the bush it is actually amazing to see how well these massive animals can camouflage in the bush.
See you next time!