Giraffes (Giraffa spp.) Fact Sheet, 2016
Describer (Date): Linnaeus (1758)
G. giraffa - southern giraffe
Characteristics: Tallest mammal. Long, prehensile tongue. Large, hooved feet. Horn-like protuberances called ossicones on the skull; prominent in adult males.
Pelage: Background medium-to-reddish brown, broken into characteristic splotches by buff colored borders.
Ossicones: Permanent, bony, unbranched. Resemble horns, but not true horns. Soft and cartilaginous in newborns; ossify and fuse with skull during growth.
Neck: Elongated cervical vertebrae
Circulatory system: Adaptations to regulate blood flow to the head/brain. Unique heart structure. Special veins and valves.
Head/Body Length: Males 3.8-4.7 m (12.5-15.4 ft)
|Distribution & Habitat||Behavior & Ecology|
Range: Patchy distribution in sub-Saharan Africa.
Habitat: Savannahs, open woodlands.
CITES Appendix: Not listed
Population in Wild: About 97,500
Activity Cycle: Active day and night. Most time is spent foraging, feeding and ruminating, sleeping, and moving. Sleep cycles not well understood in the wild.
Social Groups: Social, non-territorial. Herd structure appears dynamic; fission-fusion. Associations may not be random. Groups usually 3-10 individuals, with large groups of more than 100 individuals reported.
Locomotion: Walk alternating two right limbs, then two left (like the camel). Gallop alternating two front and two hind limbs (like rabbits).
Communication: Excellent vision; likely gain information from each other by visual monitoring. Varied vocalizations, but poorly understood. Evidence for vocalizations beyond human hearing range; growing evidence of infrasonic vocalizations/communication. Touch important in establishing dominance, courtship and mating, and maternal bonding.
Diet: Browsers: mostly leaves and shoots; also, seeds, pods, and bark. Favor Acacia species.
|Reproduction & Development||Species Highlights|
Sexual Maturity: Males 9-10 years, females 4-5 years.
Pregnancy: 425-465 days
Litter Size: 1, rarely 2
Birth weight: 47-100 kg (104-220 lbs)
Age at Weaning: Often begins at 9-12 months, but varies
Longevity: In the wild: males, estimated average 14-16 years (21-22 years maximum); females, estimated 28 years maximum (average lifespan not known).
Feature Facts: Giraffes are the tallest mammals in the world. Closest living relative is the okapi. Evidence of captivity dates back to the 14th century BC. Coat pattern, patch color, and lion claw scars are being used to study in giraffe ecological studies. Giraffe in Niger have a taste for farmers' cowpeas and mangoes. Some giraffe "hum" at night.
San Diego Zoo Global: First pair of giraffes, "Lofty" and "Patches," welcomed to the San Diego Zoo in 1938. Today, to feed our giraffes, fresh acacia branches are picked from plants on Zoo grounds. San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research scientists are working with Kenyan pastoralists to protect wild giraffes.
About This Fact Sheet
© 2016 San Diego Zoo Global. Conservation update Dec 2016, after IUCN Status update.
How to cite: Giraffes (Giraffa spp.) Fact Sheet, 2016. c2016. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/giraffes.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2016 Sep 10)
Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to David A. O’Connor for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.
As a Research Coordinator with the San Diego Zoo, Mr. O’Connor spends much of his time in Africa, leading field-based giraffe conservation efforts for the Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. He also serves as a member of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group.
Another focus of Mr. O’Connor’s work is collaborating with communities in Southeast Asia to reduce wildlife trade demand.
For both programs, he works closely with in-country collaborators and partners.
David O’Connor, M.S., earned his bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Earth Science from University College Cork, Ireland, his graduate diploma in Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate School of Business at University College, Dublin, and his master’s degree in Conservation Biology from the University of Michigan.
Visit the Institute for Conservation Research’s website to learn more about Mr. O’Connor’s work in community-based conservation ecology.
Also, thank you to Amanda Lussier who shared her knowledge of giraffe husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.
Ms. Lussier, Keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, has been working with giraffes since 2013. Her interest in these animals arose after hand-rearing a sick giraffe calf named Leroy.
Ms. Lussier holds a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and is particularly fascinated by giraffe social networks and herd dynamics.