[ Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata ]
||13 to 18 feet (8 to 12 feet at shoulder)
||up to 2,600 pounds
||leaves, shoots, and vines found in treetops
||alfalfa hay, grain, chopped carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, and browse
||dry savannahs and open woodlands
Tallest of All
Just browsing, thank you
Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world. Some individuals top the tape measure at more than seventeen feet. With their high-rise lifestyle, giraffes are able to eat food unavailable to most other ground-dwelling mammals. Giraffes are "browsers," which are animals that eat primarily leaves of trees and shrubs (as opposed to grazers, who eat grasses). As the best of the browsers, taller male giraffes are able to eat leaves from the lower leaf crowns of trees. Females are slightly shorter than the males, and usually browse on shrubs and smaller trees.
Necks, legs, and tongues
What makes a giraffe tall? First of all, there’s its neck, which comprises almost half the animal’s height. Even though it is so long, a giraffe has the same number of neck bones as a human being—seven. A giraffe also has very elastic blood vessels and valves to compensate for the sudden change in blood pressure when it lowers its head to drink.
Helping with the height are the giraffe’s legs, which are longer than an average man is tall. The giraffe has only two gaits—a slow, ambling walk and a gallop. It walks by swinging the two legs on the same side of the body forward at the same time. When galloping, the hind legs are brought forward and ahead of the front legs. It can gallop at speeds up to 35 mph. A giraffe’s front legs are longer than its rear legs—an extra advantage when stretching for leaves. For those leaves that seem just out of reach, a giraffe bridges the gap with a strong, flexible, gray, seventeen-inch-long tongue that is able to grasp leaves from even the thorniest branches.
What makes a reticulated giraffe reticulated?
Reticulated giraffes are the most distinctively patterned of the eight subspecies of giraffe. Their coat has brown, regular, box-like patterns (called a reticulated pattern). White spaces between the patches form narrow lines. This elaborate pattern is good camouflage in dense, dry vegetation.
Coming and going
Giraffes live in herds of from two to forty individuals. The herds are loosely structured with no lasting bonds, and animals come and go constantly. Although giraffe herds have no particular territories to defend, there is a hierarchy of dominance. Males compete for dominance with ritualized neck sparring—they bash each other with their neck and head (injuries are rare). The older male giraffes are usually the most dominant.
Reticulated giraffes inhabit dry savannahs and open woodlands in northeastern Kenya. Although somewhat common in the wild, their numbers have decreased due to land-use competition.
The big drop
Mother giraffes give birth while standing up. So, a giraffe calf’s first experience in the world is to fall five feet to the ground! But when you’re nearly six feet tall at birth, a five-foot drop isn’t so bad. Within an hour of being born, the calf is up and ready to go, although it spends most of the first week hiding with its mother. Calves stay with mom for 12 to 16 months, at which time they are old enough to live on their own.
Reticulated giraffes at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo’s herd of reticulated giraffes live in Habitat Africa! The Savannah. In warm weather they can be seen outside in their spacious yard. In winter, you can see them up close inside the kopje exhibit. Brookfield Zoo staff are involved in the International Association of Giraffe Care Professionals.
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