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Giraffes (Giraffa spp.) Fact Sheet: Summary

Giraffes (Giraffa spp.) Fact Sheet



Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Describer: Linnaeus (1758)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Suborder: Ruminantia

Family: Giraffidae

Genus: Giraffa


G. giraffa - southern giraffe
G. reticulata - reticulated giraffe
G. camelopardalis - northern giraffe

*See additional comments in Taxonomy.

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.

Body Height
Males up to 5.5 m (18 ft),
Females up to 4.5 m (15 ft)

Weight (average, range)
Males: 1191.8 (973-1395) kg; 2627.5 (2145-3075) lb
Females: 828.4 (703-950) kg; 1826.3 (1550-2094) lb

Distribution & Habitat Behavior & Ecology

Range: patchy distribution in sub-Saharan Africa.

Habitat: savannahs, open woodlands.

IUCN Status: Overall: Vulnerable (2016 assessment); IUCN recognizes some subspecies as Endangered.

CITES Appendix: Appendix II, II(r) (reservations)

Populations in Wild (species combined):
All ages: about 97,500 individuals*
Mature individuals: about 68,000 individuals
*Includes both current and provisional population estimates for G. c. angolensis; subject to revision.

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 camels). 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 lb)

Age at Weaning: often begins at 9-12 months, but varies

Typical Life Expectancy
Wild populations: males, estimated average of 14-16 years; females: average life span not reported, like may be a few years longer than for males
Managed care: median life expectancy of about 15 years for males and 20 years for females


Feature Facts

  • Giraffes are the tallest mammals in the world.
  • Closest living relative is the okapi.
  • Evidence of managed care 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 Wildlife Alliance

  • 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 Wildlife Alliance scientists are working with Kenyan pastoralists to protect wild giraffes.

About This Fact Sheet

© 2016-2019 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Population estimates and IUCN Status updated Nov 2018. IUCN Status for subspecies updated Jul 2019. Distribution updated Aug 2019.

How to cite: Giraffes (Giraffa spp.) Fact Sheet. c2016-2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. giraffes.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2016 Sep 10)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance 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


Many thanks to David A. O’Connor for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.

As a research coordinator with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, Mr. O’Connor spends much of his time in Africa, leading field-based giraffe conservation efforts. 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.

Learn more about Mr. O’Connor’s work in community-based conservation ecology.

Thank you to Amanda Lussier who shared her knowledge of giraffe husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.

Amanda 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.

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