Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe)

kameelperd, giraf [Afrikaans]; Giraffe [German]; girafe [French]; twiga [Swahili]; intudla, indlulamithi [isiNdebele]; indlulamthi, icowa,umcheya [isiXhosa]; indlulamithi [isiZulu]; thutlwa, thitlwa [Sepedi]; thuhlo [Sesotho]; thutlwa [Setswana]; indlulamitsi, lihudla [siSwati]; nhutlwa, nthutlwa [Xitsonga]; thuda, thudwa [Tshivenda]; tutwa [Lozi]; unveweshe [Yei]; !Garo!naib [Nama] [Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Cetartiodactyla (even-toed ungulates and cetaceans) > Ruminantia (ruminants) > Family: Giraffidae (giraffes, okapi)

Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe)
Giraffes, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ]


Giraffes are the tallest living animals and are easily recognized by their distinct elongated body shape, with a very long neck and legs and a relatively short body. It is thought that the reason for the evolution of this “tallness” is to provide access to foliage in the tree canopy. The irregular blotched patterns on a giraffe’s coat offer some camouflage by imitating the dappling effect of light and shade found in savannah woodlands. The coat patterns are distinctive for each giraffe, rather like a human figure print. Bulls are usually darker in colour than cows.


Male: Body Length 3.8 – 4.7 m; height to horn tip 4.7-5.3 m; weight range 800 - 1930 kg.
Female: Height to horn tips 3.9 – 4.5 m; weight range 550 – 1 180 kg.

Dental formula

I C P M = 32

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in open woodland and wooded grassland south of the Savanna.


Being so tall carries some physiological costs. The giraffe’s heart is about 2 m above its hooves and 3 m below its brain. The blood vessels in their long legs are prevented from leaking blood through the capillary walls by a very tight thick sheath of skin around the slender lower half of each leg. This has the same effect as the G-suits worn by fighter pilots that prevent blackouts during acceleration to higher altitude. The giraffe’s blood pressure measured at the heart is 215mmHg is twice that of a cow, while the blood pressure in the brain is much lower at 90mmHg, this is much the same as most large mammals. To prevent blood rushing down the neck and causing the brain to literally explode when the giraffe lowers its head to drink, there is an intricate network of fine blood vessels at the base of the brain. This is a pressure regulating system called the carotid rete. The strange splayed drinking position of the giraffe also helps to bring chest closer to the ground and reduce the height difference between the heart and the brain. The giraffe has seven cervical (neck) vertebrae, exactly the same number of neck bones found in all mammals. In the giraffe these bones are greatly elongated.
Giraffes are the largest ruminants and like all other animals in this group they have to chew their food more than once. When the food is regurgitated up the long esophagus, a tennis-ball shape is clearly visible in the neck. 


Giraffes are pure browsers and feed almost exclusively on trees and shrubs, up to a level of about 5m. When available they select the high quality plant parts, such us fresh leaves, shoots, flowers, and fruits. Bulls tend to feed higher than cows and more commonly stretch to feed. The reasons for this are not clear but it is thought to reduce competition for food within the herd. The giraffe has a long powerful tongue that is a blue gray in colour. It is very dextrous and together with the highly mobile muscular lips efficiently strips leaves from spiney acacia branches.

Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe)

Giraffe feeding on some leaves, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Dave Scott ]

Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe) Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe)

Giraffes, Rooipoort Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Giraffe browsing an Acacia tree, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Dave Scott ]


The social structure is simple with groups of giraffe’s usually consisting of less than 20 animals. The animals tend to move freely between herd groups, and the only obvious associations are between cows and their calves. The dominant bulls monopolize mating and roam widely in search of cows. After a gestation period of 15 months, giraffe cows give birth standing and the calf has a long drop of 2m to the ground. For the first few weeks the calf will rest alone in the shadows while its mother feed nearby. Later it will join “nursery groups” of up to 10 calves in the company of one or two supervisory adults.  15 months

Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe) Giraffa camelopardalis (Giraffe)

Giraffes, Ventersburg, Free State, South Africa. [photo Gerhard Theron ]

Giraffe calf, Kenya. [photo Crazy Kanga ]

Life span

25 years in the wild, 28 years in captivity.


Giraffes have lost over 50% of their historical geographical range; this is as a result of over-hunting and habitat loss, combined with periodic outbreaks of cattle borne diseases. While not currently regarded as threatened their conservation status is lower risk and conservation dependent.



Contact us if you can contribute information or images to improve this page.

 Mammals home   Biodiversity Explorer home   Iziko home   Search