Giraffes are one of the most loved mammals in Africa, possibly after the elephant. Fully grown giraffe males can attain a height of 20′ – most of that neck of course, and weigh between 1600 and 2000 lbs. Females are about 20% shorter and lighter. On top of a giraffe’s head are ossicones, unique structures that are neither horns nor bumps; rather they are hardened bits of cartilage covered by skin. The uses are unclear, ranging from intimidation to sexually related to heat dissipation.
All belong to the same genus and species, with nine different sub species including the Nubian, the reticulated, the Angolan, the Kordofan, the Masai, the South African, the West African the Rhodesian and Rothchild’s. Some argue there are acually four separate species; the Northern, the Reticulated, the Masai and the Southern.
Giraffes range in the wild throughout Africa, but are most often found in the savannas and the woodlands. The most common herd is made up of adult females and their calves, and a few males. These can typically total 10-20 individuals. Herds are typically egalitarian with no clear leader.
The gestation period for giraffes is about 15 months. At birth, calves are about 5 1/2 feet tall. They are weaned at 15-18 months. Females have their first calves at 5-6 years.
Giraffes subsist on a variable vegetarian diet that includes leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. They do not have to drink daily. Their main diet consists of variants of the acacia tree. They are ruminants, and constantly chew their cud. Herds forage together, and have a home range that averages 100 square miles. Interestingly a group of standing giraffes is called a “tower”; when walking they become a”journey”.
Giraffes are classed as vulnerable by the IUCN, because of ongoing habitat loss, expansion of agriculture and population growth, civil unrest, illegal hunting and ecological changes. They are unlikely;y to be attacked by lions or hyenas, which may attack young, sick or aged individuals.