Reticulated Giraffe

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata

  • SWAHILI NAME: Twiga

The word “giraffe” comes from the Arabic word for “graceful.” One of the most distinguished of all African mammals, the giraffe is the tallest living animal on the planet. Its long neck is an advantage in reaching food and in detecting danger from great distances. It also allows the giraffe to use its principal weapon: its head.

Reticulated Giraffe

Reticulated Giraffe

Type

Mammal

Daily Rhythm

Diurnal/Nocturnal

Diet

Herbivorous

Life span

In the wild: 22 years (male); 28 years (female)

Conservation Status

Lower risk

Weight

Male: 2,145 to 3,075 lb (973 to 1,395 kg)
Female: 1,550 to 2,095 lb (703 to 950 kg)

Size

14 to 19 ft (4 to 6 m) high, including the neck

Reticulated Giraffe

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Square-toed split hoof with long, curved toes
Scat: Typically flattened at one end and scattered, due to dropping so far to the ground

Reticulated Giraffe tracks

Trivia Question

How fast can a giraffe run?

Correct!

With their long legs, giraffes can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56 kph). When running, they swing both legs on one side of their body forward nearly simultaneously.

Social Structure

The social structure of giraffes is very fluid. Herd composition changes constantly, regardless of sex or age, as individuals leave and rejoin groups. The number of giraffes in a herd also varies greatly, reaching as many as 240. Males live a mostly solitary life, though some form bachelor herds.

Communication

Although giraffes have no vocal cords, they occasionally utter grunts, whistles, snorts, and other noises, particularly when they are under stress.

Behavior

Giraffes are active day and night. In the early morning and evenings, they spend their time feeding and walking; during the heat of the day, they rest and ruminate. Giraffes are not territorial, though they do have home ranges where they spend most of their time. Male giraffes engage in a behavior called necking, where they use their heavy skulls to bash into one another’s sides. This display, which can be extremely violent, is used to assert dominance.

Conservation

The overall giraffe population has been declining due to poaching, habitat loss, and expanding human activity. To keep the count from dwindling further, there has been an effort to increase the number of giraffes living in parks, game reserves, and other protected areas.

Range & Habitat

​Giraffes live throughout most of Africa. There are no giraffes in the northern part of the continent, and the population in West Africa has been in sharp decline since the beginning of the 20th century.

Giraffes are common on the savanna, particularly in regions with acacia, commiphora, and combretum vegetation. They do not live in deserts or rain forests. The reticulated giraffe is one of several subspecies, each of which lives in a particular region and has its own pattern of spots.

Diet

Giraffes are very selective browsers, eating only the leaves and buds of trees. Their long tongues, which can be up to 18 inches (45 cm) long, are very agile and help them carefully select and grab their food. Giraffes prefer leaves from various species of acacia trees and have developed thick saliva that helps protect their tongues from the thorns. While giraffes must eat huge quantities of foliage each day, they can survive for a long time without water.

Breeding

When a male giraffe is ready to mate, he exhibits a behavior called flehmen, rolling back his upper lip to display his teeth. If a female is receptive, the male follows her and blocks any potential challengers. To initiate mating, the male rests his head gently on her backside or pushes her with his horns. Females gestate for 15 months, after which they leave the herd and give birth to a single calf. A female giraffe gives birth standing up, with her back legs bent slightly. The calf’s 6.6-foot (2-m) fall serves to break the umbilical cord. A calf learns to stand within 30 minutes of its birth, and remains closely bonded with its mother for the next 14 to 22 months.

Friends & Foes

Lions are the principle predators of giraffes. The fact that more than half of the current giraffe population is over four years old is indicative of the high predation of calves by lions. During their first year, calves nearly double in height, which helps make them a less likely target for a predator. Once they are grown, they use their powerful legs to fight off lions and other attackers.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

The most recent estimate puts the giraffe population at fewer than 100,000. Population density depends on foliage distribution, though human factors also play a critical role. Recent poaching and conflicts in East Africa, for instance, have reduced numbers in that region to an estimated 3,000 individuals.

Reticulated Giraffe

Did you know?

Giraffes in the Namib Desert have been observed drinking water only two times during a six-year period!