Creature Feature – Giraffe

Africa returns to the Minnesota Zoo, opening for the season on May 23rd. Less than two weeks to go! Let’s take a moment to learn about the largest animal of the exhibit, the giraffe.

Giraffa camelopardalis

The nine recognized subspecies of giraffe are distinguished by their coat pattern and geographical distribution. Giraffes live in loosely bound herds of 10-20 individuals in sub-Saharan Africa. They are most numerous in eastern Africa, though certain populations also live in the western and southern parts of the continent. Giraffes live in both open savannas and wooded grasslands. The okapi is the giraffe’s only living relative.

The giraffe is the world’s tallest animal. Adult males stand up to 18 feet, weighing as much as 4200 pounds, and females are around 16 feet and 2500 pounds. A giraffe’s leg alone is taller than many humans at about 6 feet long. The coat is made up of a rusty “orangish, blackish, brownish” patchwork of spots, separated by whitish lines. Giraffes live for 10-15 years in the wild, with captive animals averaging a 25 year life span.

Giraffes use their height to browse high in treetops where few other animals can reach. Their prehensile tongue, which can be more than 18 inches long, helps them pluck the leaves and buds from the branches. A favorite food item is the leaves of the acacia tree. The leaves are full of water, enabling giraffes to go a long time without drinking.

Though eliminated from most of their former ranges, giraffes are still reasonably widespread and not in immediate danger. Habitat loss and human encroachment have reduced available territory for giraffes. Local tribes also hunt and kill giraffes for hair, horns, skin, and meat. The giraffe is a highly iconic African species, and their presence on the savanna increase eco-tourism, providing income to the local people without harming the native animals.

Interesting Facts:
An adult giraffe can kill a lion with one swipe of its massive front hoof.
Like humans, giraffes have seven vertebrae in their necks. The giraffe’s are just a whole lot bigger.
Female giraffes give birth standing up, their young enduring a 6 foot fall to the ground at birth.
No two individuals have the exact same pattern of spots on their coat.
Giraffes can run as fast as 35 miles an hour over short distances.
A giraffe’s heart can pump 16 gallons of blood per minute.

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