21 amazing facts about giraffes you might not know

We've teamed up with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to bring you fascinating facts about this iconic African mammal. 

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Giraffes walking through the savannah in the Masai Mara

Giraffes walking through the savannah in the Masai Mara © Manoj Shah / Getty

 

1. A study published in 2016 suggests that the giraffe is not a species, but a subfamily containing four highly distinct species. Read more here

2. Giraffes used to be distributed throughout North and West Africa, including the Sahara, and along the Nile. Today giraffes are only found in sub-Sarahan Africa.

3. The giraffe originated from Eurasia, probably temperate Eurasia. This genus evolved seven to eight million years ago.

 

Angolan giraffes drinking in northwest Namibia © Fennessy / Giraffe Conservation Foundation

 

4. The giraffe genus (Giraffa) is part the Giraffidae family. The only other extant relative within this family is the okapi (the only species in the Okapia genus).

5. The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world, standing at around 4-5m high, and the tallest giraffes can be recorded up to 5.9m. That’s over a meter higher than a double-decker bus.

6. Despite being incredibly tall, giraffes still only have seven vertebrae in their neck - the same number as humans and most other mammals

7. A giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground. As a result, it has to awkwardly spread or bend its front legs to reach the ground for a drink of water.

 

A giraffe splays its front legs in order © Fennessy / Giraffe Conservation Foundation

 

Can giraffes swim? Your wild question answered

8. Giraffes only need to drink once every few days. Most of their water comes from all the plants they eat.

9. Unlike most other four-legged mammals, giraffes swing both legs on the same side at almost the same time during their walk, known as ‘pacing’. This movement is lost, however, when the giraffe breaks into a gallop.

10. Giraffe feet are the size of a dinner plate with a diameter of 30cm.

11. Both male and female giraffe have ‘horns’ already at birth. These ossicones lie flat and are not attached to the skull to avoid injury at birth. They only fuse with the skull later in life.

 

A young giraffe in South Africa © Fennessy / Giraffe Conservation Foundation

 

12. Female giraffes give birth standing up. Their young fall about 2m to the ground and can stand up within an hour of birth.

13. The gestation period for a giraffe is 457 days, which is about 15 months. Generally, only a single baby is born.

14. About 50% of all giraffe calves do not survive their first year.

 

A young giraffe peering around the side of its mother © Fennessy / Giraffe Conservation Foundation

 

15. Just like human fingerprints, no two giraffes have the same coat pattern.

16. It is thought that the coat pattern on a giraffe doesn't just serve to camouflage the animal, but also helps with temperature regulation too.

The coloured skin patches can act to dissipate heat around the body, as the temperature of the skin is slightly higher in darker regions, facilitating the dilation of vessels beneath the skin's surface.

17. Giraffes have an efficient nasal cooling system to regulate brain temperature up to 3°C lower than the rest of the body.

18. To protect the giraffe’s brain from sudden changes in blood pressure when it lowers its head to drink, it has valves to stop the back-flow of blood and elastic-walled vessels that dilate and constrict to manage flow.

NASA has done research on the blood vessels in giraffe legs to get inspiration for human space suits.

19. Giraffe tongues are bluish-purple and between 45-50cm long.

20. A giraffe heart can weigh approximately 11kg and this is the biggest of any land mammal. It can pump 60 litres of blood around its body every minute at a blood pressure twice that of an average human.

Find out how a giraffe's weight compares to other mammals

21. When fighting, male giraffes will push and shove against each other. This occasionally escalates into powerful blows delivered by their muscular necks. The loser can be knocked off, and sometimes even killed. 

Two giraffes neck wrestling © Fennessy / Giraffe Conservation Foundation

 

The giraffe has faced a decline of up to 40 per cent in the last 30 years

View our east African wildlife photo gallery by James Warwick

Click here to find out more about the Giraffe Conservation Foundation

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