Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata
STATUS:Lower Risk / Conservation Dependent
HABITAT:arid and dry savanna with trees
LIFESPAN:Captive: up to 25 yrs
Wild: 10-16 yrs
OFFSPRING:single young per birth
WEIGHT:male: 2,425 lb (1,100 kg)
female: 1,540 lb (700 kg)
Giraffes live in eastern, central and southern Africa. They range across savannah, grasslands, and open woods in search of trees – especially their favorite, acacias – to feed upon. With the opening of the Zoo’s new Giraffe Feeding Station in the spring of 2008, guests have the incredible opportunity to feed browse to reticulated giraffes in the Zoo’s herd and to see these remarkable animals close up at eye level. Reticulated giraffes are one of 9 recognized subspecies of giraffe.
“How I live there”
Giraffes travel in loose, informal herds and are not territorial. They roam freely in search of food. For the most part, life in a giraffe herd is calm. Bulls will spar to establish dominance but then will continue to graze side by side. The dominant male feels no need to drive other males from the herd.
Most of a giraffe’s time is spent feeding. Giraffes curl their long, black tongues around leaves or new shoots in the upper branches of trees and pull them into their mouths. They prefer the thorny acacia tree to any other plant. They may also eat fruit and even soil that is rich in minerals. A giraffe can eat well over 100 pounds of food per day.
As for water, giraffes can go several days without it but must eventually drink to satisfy their thirst. Adults are most vulnerable when drinking because of the awkward stance they must take: legs spread wide and head lowered to the ground.
Like many large land mammals, giraffes doze more than sleep. Deep sleep is brief (and dangerous, because of vulnerability to predators). While young giraffes lie down periodically throughout the day, adults rarely do. They rest while standing; they may lie down after dark, but only briefly.
“Making my mark”
When giraffes stand together on open land, they are hard to miss. They make an impression. That being said, they do not significantly alter the environment in a way that affects other animals, despite their size and constant need to feed. They graze only upon the highest leaves and branches, leaving those lower down for other animals.
“What eats me”
Lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs may try to prey on giraffe but it’s no easy task. Despite their gentle tendencies, adult giraffes are formidable foes and can inflict serious injury on any predator, including lions, with blows from their front hooves. According to data for giraffes of the Serengeti, the mortality rate for adults is very low – around 3% — while for more vulnerable baby giraffes, aged six months or less, the mortality rate is almost 50%.
After a gestation period of 15 months, a female giraffe will give birth usually to a single offspring. Twins are extremely rare. When born, the infant giraffe drops about six feet to the ground – a rude awakening by any standards! Within a few minutes the infant will attempt to stand, although success may take a while. Once standing, the infant immediately starts walking and seeks out its mother. It will begin to eat solid food in just a few weeks but will continue to nurse for 15 to 17 months. To survive, it requires the herd’s protection.
Giraffes are not currently threatened or endangered. They are protected from hunting in most places where they now live, but are still vulnerable to poaching and habitat loss.
“Giraffes are the Zoo’s necks big thing,” special for The Baltimore Examiner, 12/18/2007, p. 26.
“Giraffe Feeding 101,” Zoogram, Spring 2008, pp. 12-13.
Spring 2008 Zoogram, “News from the Zoo” spread, p. 4.
Winter 2007 Zoogram, “News from the Zoo” spread, p. 4.
Spring 2006 Zoogram, “News from the Zoo” spread, p. 4.