Giraffe, the tallest living animal. It is a ruminant (cud-chewing mammal). It lives in dry savannas of Africa, south of the Sahara. A related animal, the okapi, inhabits the forests of the upper basin of the Congo River.

GiraffesGiraffes are the tallest living animals.
Where in the World Do Giraffes Live?

Giraffes live only in Africa. They are found south of the Sahara (suh HAIR uh). They live in open grasslands with scattered trees and shrubs. For safety, giraffes usually stay away from thick forests. The many trees there can slow them down if they have to run quickly from a lion.

There is only one species, or kind, of giraffe. But not all giraffes are the same. There are eight different groups of giraffes. Each group of giraffes has a different coat pattern. The pattern is a clue to which group a giraffe belongs to.

Different groups of giraffes live in different parts of Africa. For example, Masai (muh SY) giraffes live in eastern Africa. Nigerian (ny JIHR ee uhn) giraffes live in central and western Africa. Transvaal (tranz VAHL) giraffes live in southern Africa.

The average female giraffe is about 15 feet (4.6 m) high, but some males grow to a height of more than 18 feet (5.5 m) and may weigh as much as 1 ½ tons (1,360 kg). The legs are long, and a giraffe cannot lower its head to drink without spreading its forelegs apart. Giraffes, although often described as voiceless, have vocals cords and, on occasion, make low moaning or bleating sounds.

How Tall Can a Giraffe Get?

Giraffes are the world’s tallest animals. An adult male grows about 17 feet (5.2 meters) high. That’s almost as tall as three grown men standing on each other’s shoulders. Female giraffes reach their full size by about age 5. Males are fully grown by about age 8. By then, everything about a giraffe is big. Its legs are 6 feet (1.8 meters) long. So is its neck. An adult male giraffe weighs about 2,600 pounds (1,800 kilograms).

A giraffe’s tail is about as long as a yardstick—3 feet (91 centimeters). Add the hairs at the end of the tail, and the length doubles. A giraffe’s tongue is about 21 inches (53 centimeters) long.

Adults of both sexes have “horns”—skin-covered projections of bone on the forehead. Males often have a second pair of horns behind the main ones, and some old males have a fifth bony knob between the eyes. The giraffe has a long tail with trailing, coarse black hair. The coat has dark reddish to chocolate brown splotches on a buff-colored background. It serves to camouflage the giraffe in foliage. The neck is up to seven feet (2.1 m) long and contains seven elongated vertebrae. Special valves in the neck regulate the flow of blood to the head. The tongue is long and flexible and is used to pluck leaves from acacia, mimosa, and wild apricot trees. Giraffes are able to store water in their body tissues and can go without it for long periods. Their body temperature, unlike that of most mammals, is not constant. Instead, it rises during the heat of the day, eliminating the need to sweat or pant and thus conserving water.

What Is Special About a Giraffe’s Coat?

All mammals have fur or hair on their bodies. Giraffes are no exception. But a giraffe’s coat is special because it is like a fingerprint. Each giraffe has its own distinct pattern. Even within the same group of giraffes, no two coats are identical. A baby giraffe can recognize its mother by her unique coat pattern.

A giraffeA giraffe uses its long tongue to reach high for leaves.

The giraffe has keen sight and hearing. It can run up to 29 miles per hour (47 km/h) and can usually outrun predators. Giraffes have been known to kill lions, their principal enemies, by kicking with their powerful legs. Giraffes were formerly killed by hunters for their hide and meat. They are now protected by law and most are found in game preserves.

Giraffes live in herds of 12 to 15 individuals, led by an adult male. The mating season is from July to September. The female gives birth to one young (called a calf) about 450 days after mating. The young are able to stand within 20 minutes after birth. The average lifespan of a giraffe is 15 to 20 years.

The giraffe is Giraffa camelopardis of the family Giraffidae. (The species name refers to its camel-like body and leopard-like spots.)