The Elegant Giraffe
Everyone recognises giraffes. They are plentiful in many southern African protected areas and impossible to misidentify.
But still a beautiful animal to spend time to watch!
“Oh, a giraffe” is a common response when they are spotted on a game drive. “Lovely eyelashes.” And there the conversation often ends but there is a lot more ...
The name ‘giraffe’ supposedly comes from the Arabic word ‘zarafah’, which means to ‘walk swiftly’. The species name camelopardalis is derived from ancient Greek and refers to a combination of camel and leopard (i.e. a camel with leopard-like spots).
The only subspecies that occurs in South Africa is the southern giraffe. The subspecies differ mainly in slight changes to the lattice patterning on the body. In the southern giraffe the older males often get darker with age.
A giraffe's legs alone are taller than many humans—about 6 feet . These long legs allow giraffes to run as fast as 35 miles an hour over short distances and cruise comfortably at 10 miles an hour over longer distances.
Female giraffes gives birth standing up. Their young endure a rather rude welcome into the world by falling more than 5 feet to the ground at birth. These infants can stand in half an hour and run with their mothers an incredible ten hours after birth. They can live to around 26 years old in the wild.
In relation to its body size it has the largest heart of the land mammals, it needs it to pump the blood all the way up that long neck to the brain, the heart can weigh up to 11kg (25 pounds). It also has one of the most complicated circulatory systems with valves and spongy tissue to ensue blood reaches the brain. As the blood must travel a long way from the heart to the head a giraffe’s blood pressure is approximately double that required by humans. Giraffes, furthermore, have unusually high heart rates for their size, at 150 beats per minute.
Another problem that the giraffe faces, as a result of its long neck, is that it is very difficult to lower its head down to water to drink. In order to accomplish this a giraffe needs to spread its front legs wide open. They are very vulnerable when drinking, as they tend to rely on their eyesight to spot predators, and when their heads are down they cannot see very far around them.
Giraffes' tongues can be up to 20 inches long and are darkly coloured, which is thought to help protect them during frequent sun-exposure. So they must have the longest tongue of all the land mammals.
They are not gregarious and will get together in small groups for a few days and then go away on their own again and join up with other giraffe. To the human ear they are also mute and do not make a sound.
Giraffes sleep less than two hours a day and in short 5 to 10 minute period. In general, they sleep with their feet tucked under them and their head resting on their hindquarters, but they can also sleep for short periods of time standing up.
These beautiful animals with a different gate for walking and running are supposed the most to be the most photographed animal on safaris.
But what is not so well known is that that world’s tallest land mammal, and the heaviest ruminant with large males weighing as much as 1200 kg, also plays a role in the pollination of the flowers of the knobthorn tree Senegalia nigrescens. The flowers are also pollinated by insects and birds and although widely acknowledged the full extent of the giraffes pollination efforts are not fully understood. They collect visible amounts of pollen on their heads and necks when feeding, in this way pollen is distributed to other flowering knobthorns throughout the giraffes home range.
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