Giraffe

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2014 Update: Nashville Zoo welcomes it's third giraffe calf. Read more...

Range
Southern Kenya and Tanzania

Habitat
Savannas and open woodland; living often in semi-desert regions.

Distinguishing Characteristics
Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant.

Males and females both have horns that are unique amongst mammals, each made of a solid bony core, called an ossicone, covered with skin and up to 5 inches long. They are present at birth as cartilaginous knobs, which rapidly ossify and grow slowly throughout life. Giraffe’s have the longest tails of any land mammal. They can be up to 8 feet long.

Size: They attain a height of up to 19 feet with an average of 17.4 feet for males and 14.1 feet for females. The record is 19.3 feet. Shoulder height is 8 to 12 feet and weight is 1,212 to 4,254 pounds with an average adult weight of about 1,763 pounds.

Distinguishing characteristics: Because of their spotted pattern, giraffes were often called “camel-leopards”. The giraffe species name, Giraffa camelopardalis, was derived from this notion. They have a long prehensile tongue, which can be extended up to 18 inches and is used in plucking leaves from trees. They also have an extremely flexible upper lip to aid in food retrieval. Masai giraffes differ from the other subspecies of giraffe in part by the oak leaf pattern of their spots.

Dietary Classification
Diet in the Zoo: alfalfa, browse (willow, bamboo, sugar maple, elm, hackberry, tulip poplar and a couple other varieties found on Zoo grounds), lots of grain, and very small amounts of carrots, sweet potatoes, and romaine lettuce

Diet in the Wild: Giraffes feed almost exclusively on the young leaves and shoots of trees. The giraffe’s diet can include up to 100 species of trees but, in any single area, only about 40-60 are used. Acacia trees are a favorite, along with mimosa and wild apricot trees. The giraffe is a browser. It takes branches in its mouth and tears off the leaves by pulling its head away. The largest individuals consume as much as 75 pounds of food per day. In lean times however, a giraffe can live on as little as 15 pounds per day. If water is available, it will take an occasional drink (about 7.5 liters a week). Unlike most plains animals it may only visit the watering hole every 3 days or so. However, it is able to go without water for many weeks or longer if necessary.

Life Span
Wild: about 20-26 years Captivity: 30-35 years (oldest recorded was 36 years, 2 months)

Behavior/Adaptations
Giraffes have the largest eyes of any land mammal. They have some color vision and are able to distinguish orange, red, green, yellow-green, blue, and violet as separate colors.

Giraffes are usually silent but do possess a range of vocalizations. Calves bleat or mew and cows seeking calves will bellow. Courting bulls may cough noisily. Alarm snorts, moans, snores, hissing, and flute like sounds have also been heard. Research suggests that giraffes may communicate with infrasonic sound (as do elephants and blue whales) - which suggests that their social system may be more complex than once thought.

Giraffes usually sleep standing up, but occasionally lie down. Giraffes only sleep a grand total of about 30 minutes each day; usually in 5 minute increments.

* The heart of an adult Giraffe may be up to 2 feet long and weigh 20 pounds or more (males generally have larger hearts than females). The heart can pump 15 to 20 gallons of blood per minute. Their lungs can hold 55 liters (14.5 gallons) of air.

Status
Conservation: They are not endangered but listed as “lower risk” with fairly stable populations. The IUCN classifies them as conservation dependent. Although illegal to hunt, poaching does occur for food and the long black tail hairs are used to make bracelets and other trinkets. Overall, giraffes are still common in eastern and southern Africa, but populations have fallen dramatically in West Africa. Zoo Program: The Masai giraffes that are at the Nashville Zoo are part of the Giraffe Population Management Plan (PMP). A PMP is an AZA sanctioned strategy for maintaining genetic and demographic health of captive populations through demography, genetics, husbandry, and breeding recommendations. As of April 2006, there are only about 54 Masai giraffes currently residing in North American Zoos. Nashville Zoo’s giraffes were recommended by the PMP due to their genetic compatibility and will hopefully produce offspring that will contribute to captive genetic diversity.