Giraffe

Giraffe Photo
Newborn giraffes can stand on their own within about 20 minutes and may be 6.5 feet tall at birth.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The world’s tallest living animal, the giraffe occurs from the Sahel region of western and central Africa all the way to southern Africa. Like humans, giraffes have seven vertebrae in their necks, but the giraffe’s bones are much longer, enabling the animals to eat foliage high in the trees in their savannah and grassland habitats.

Living alone or in loose-knit herds of about ten, giraffes are not territorial. The animals browse over home ranges that overlap with those of other groups. Giraffes are voracious, almost constantly eating. They spend up to 20 hours a day consuming as much as 75 pounds of leaves and other vegetation. As ruminants, they chew their food very little before swallowing it. Later, they bring the food, or cud, back up into their mouth and chew it again. This makes the food easier to digest.

Though generally peaceful amblers, giraffes can be dangerous when threatened. When attacked by a lion (their primary predator), an adult giraffe can shatter the lion’s skull or break its spine with a single deft kick, and defend the more helpless young giraffes in the process. Male giraffes may compete with each other in battles that involve sparring with their heads and necks. Other animals that sometimes graze with giraffes, including zebras and wildebeests, can benefit from the giraffes’ elevated sightline, which serves as an early warning system against predators.

All giraffes have long been grouped together as a single species, but recent scientific work supported by WCS indicates that there may be at least six distinct species. Some of these groups have very small populations.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameGiraffa camelopardalis
  • The closest related animal to the giraffe is the okapi.
  • Giraffes primarily eat leaves, especially from acacia, mimosa, and wild apricot trees. Their long, bluish, and flexible tongues can extend up to 18 inches to pluck leaves. Because they obtain moisture from the breakdown of leaves during digestion, giraffes can go for months without water.
  • Giraffes are born after a gestation of 15 months. Newborn giraffes can stand on their own within about 20 minutes and may be 6.5 feet tall at birth. The calves double their height within a year. Male giraffes are larger than females and can grow to 17 feet tall and weigh between 1,200 and 4,250 pounds.
  • Giraffes can live up to 25 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.
  • The giraffe has one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, averaging less than two hours per day. It also has the longest tail—at about 8 feet.
  • Giraffes are essentially silent animals but can grunt, snort, whistle, and bleat.

Challenges

Giraffes have suffered an estimated 50 percent population decline in the past 10 years. Today, only 80,000 may remain across Africa. With small populations and limited geographic ranges, some of the newly defined giraffe species could be threatened by extinction. The main concerns for giraffes are hunting and the loss or fragmentation of their habitat.

WCS Responds

WCS monitors giraffe populations to ensure that habitat loss and illegal hunting do not endanger populations across sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in post-conflict Southern Sudan. WCS assisted the Sudanese government in establishing Boma National Park, which provides important habitat for giraffes and other wildlife. This is part of the region covered by the Boma-Jonglei conservation initiative.

In Zambia, WCS works with local people and other conservation groups to protect giraffe habitat and to stop illegal snaring of wild animals. Snares also entrap giraffes. In the Luangwa Valley national parks and surrounding areas, where WCS has worked for nearly 30 years, the unique and isolated Thornicroft’s giraffe population remains stable at around 1,100.

In Uganda, where giraffe populations are dangerously low (the Rothschild giraffe numbers fewer than 700 in Murchison National Park), and where there have been periods of civil unrest, WCS works with the government and other partners on biological surveys. WCS helped establish and manage the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to support Ugandan authorities in park management throughout the country. WCS is helping the Uganda government meet new challenges to its national parks and sensitive landscapes—such as Murchison, Kidepo, and Greater Virunga. Efforts here include environmental sensitivity mapping for oil exploration and models of climate change impact.

From the Newsroom

Road to Bisect the SerengetiAugust 25, 2010

The government of Tanzania plans to build a highway through Serengeti National Park, potentially disrupting one of the world’s biggest migrations of large mammals and jeopardizing a popular tourism destination. WCS and partners urge the country's officials to consider alternate routes.

~/media/Images/wcs org/forms/please donate to help conservation.png
Stay in touch with WCS and receive the latest news.

Saving Wildlife

Saving Wild Places

Where We Work