Giraffes are distinctively tall animals who get their scientific name (camelopardalis – literally ‘camel marked like a leopard’) for their buff fur with brown patches. Their long necks contain just seven bones, the same as all other mammals (including humans) but the bones have ball and socket like joints that give them much more flexibility.
They live in dry tropical woodland, savannah and grasslands. Giraffes are non-territorial and are very sociable. They form herds on home ranges of between 5 and 600 square kilometres. These herds have no permanent members, with individuals coming and going as they please.
When a baby giraffe is born it has a two metre drop to the ground and is walking in around 20 minutes! Nursing mothers form crèches until the infants mature at three years old. At this point males leave the herd, sometimes forming bachelor groups. Although the males continuously fight they rarely result in serious injury, though one male can knock another unconscious!
A giraffe’s tongue can be up to 45cm long and is prehensile. This means that they can control it like a hand to carefully rip the leaves off thorny trees without getting hurt.
The current threats to giraffes are habitat loss through human development and poaching for skins and meat. Traditionally giraffe were hunted just for their tails – used as fly swatters and good luck charms.