Giraffes are tall, powerful creatures. They can eat the leaves from the tops of high trees with ease, they are adept at escaping from their enemies and they can live nearly 25 years in the wild. In the past, the giraffe was called a "camel-leopard," named such because of the small hump on its back and the animal's spotted fur. The giraffe's species name comes from a combination of the two animals.
For the most part, giraffes are social animals. A herd of about 40 giraffes is composed of mostly females and calves, with a couple dozen bulls. Young male giraffes travel together and older males are more solitary and like to live alone. Healthy giraffes can live about 20 to 25 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live 28 years or longer. Many giraffes don't make it into adulthood because more than half of all calves are killed by lions, hyenas or other predators within their first year.
A giraffe has different features that help it stay safe from predators. The giraffe is fast, tall and strong, and therefore doesn't have many enemies. Lions, hyenas and the Nile Crocodile are the major predators of the giraffe. The giraffe uses its speed to get away. Running close to 30 mph, the giraffe can usually escape its enemies. However, a giraffe can only keep up that speed for a short distance. A lion will try to knock the giraffe down from its long legs, after the giraffe tires. Another feature that helps keep the giraffe safe is its long neck. It can provide the giraffe with a good view of the terrain and can spot lions or hyenas in the distance. The giraffe is also powerful. With one swift kick, it can crush the skull or spine of an attacking lion.
Giraffes inhabit the open grasslands, woodlands and savannahs of Africa. Giraffes are like camels in the way they can go for extended periods of time without water. Drinking up to 12 gallons of water at one time, the giraffe can stay hydrated for several days. The leaves of the acacia tree, located in the African savannah, are a good source of water for the giraffe. The leaves are designed to hold and retain the water. The giraffe then releases the water as it chews the leaves.
A male giraffe will mate with several females in a herd. The female is pregnant for nearly 15 months before giving birth to a single calf. The mother gives birth standing up, with the calf falling five feet --onto its head. The calf is six-feet-tall at birth so it can nurse from its mother. Calves are in great danger from predators--less than half make it to adulthood. The mother will stand over its newborn calf to try to protect it from enemies.
Even though giraffes are currently at low risk for becoming endangered, Uganda giraffes are becoming smaller in number. There are estimates that only 445 of them currently live in the wild. People have hunted giraffes for a long time. The giraffes are prized for its meat, coat and tails. Habitat destruction is the biggest threat to giraffes right now.
- Photo Credit Andi Brenner
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