Geographical Range Eastern Africa
Habitat African savanna
Scientific Name Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata
Conservation Status Common

What the Heck Is With That Neck?

You can't miss it: the giraffe's neck looks like it's been stretched. You might think its neck has a lot of bones, but in reality it has just seven - the same as most other mammals. The giraffe's neck bones just happen to be much longer!

World Record Holder

The giraffe is the tallest living land animal. Males can reach a height of 16 to 18 feet while females are somewhat smaller at 14 to 16 feet.

Giraffes are known for their spotted coats. Different subspecies (types) of giraffes have different patterns of spots. Reticulated giraffes (the kind we have at the Saint Louis Zoo) have large brown spots separated by cream-colored lines. Males are darker than females.

Treetop Treats

These animals have no competition when it comes to finding food. Their long neck helps them browse in a place that other animals can't reach: the treetops. Trees - including acacia, mimosa, and wild apricot - provide giraffes' favorite foods: leaves, fruits, and seedpods. Giraffes spend many hours each day feasting on treetop treats.

Since leaves provide a lot of moisture, giraffes don't need to drink very often. They can go without water for many weeks, even months, at a time. Lucky thing - ever see a giraffe drink from a pond? They have to spread their legs very, very wide to stoop low enough to drink!

Sharp Senses

Giraffes have extremely keen eyesight and can see great distances: they can spot a moving person a mile away! They also have excellent hearing. These sharp senses help giraffes stay alert for predators - like lions!

Gentle Giants (and Their Babies)

Males will spar, gently, for the attention of a potential mate. These sparring matches are called "neck-knocking" because - you guessed it! - they knock necks. The males rarely bite or kick during these bouts, and injuries are rare.

After a male and female pair up and mate, they have a while to wait for the birth of their baby: about 15 months! There is almost always only one baby born at a time, but twins occur on rare occasion.

Mother giraffes are very affectionate and protective toward their babies, touching and licking them frequently. When the calves are a month old, they join a "nursery" group made up of several mothers and their calves. The young are always being watched over by one of the adult females. The mothers may browse at a distance, but they return often to nurse their babies. The young giraffes stay in these groups until they are a year old.

Neck and Neck (and Neck and Neck and…)

While female giraffes live together in family groups, males live in bachelor groups. Each bachelor group has a number of young males led by an older, larger bull.

Even though they live in herds, giraffes usually don't stay in the same herd forever. Individuals may come and go, so the makeup of a group is always changing.

Saving Their Necks

Though giraffes aren't in immediate danger of extinction, they're considered to be near threatened (see Conservation Status). They suffer from two main problems: habitat loss and hunting. As the human population grows and settlements expand, giraffes are crowded out of their habitat. At the same time, the animals are being poached for meat and for their body parts: hair for making bracelets and thread, skin for shield covers, and sinew for bowstrings.

What can you do to help giraffes and other wild animals? Don't buy products made from their body parts, and encourage others not to buy them either.

Fun Facts

  • Ever see a drunken giraffe? It's possible! Giraffes like to eat maroela berries, which tend to ferment in their stomachs. When they eat too many berries, the giraffes become intoxicated and stagger around. This might look funny, but the animals can be in serious danger if they fall and break a leg.
  • Giraffes are fast runners, reaching speeds of 35 miles per hour. That's about as fast as a good horse!
  • Every giraffe has a unique pattern of spots, much like a human fingerprint.

Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Giraffidae