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The tallest mammal in the world, the African giraffe is a sight to behold with it's incredibly long neck and legs - another safari favourite
Giraffe are probably one of the most recognisable animals on the planet. As the tallest living animal early travellers where astonished and completely confused. The previous scientific name Camelopardalis translates to "Camel Leopard"- with the closest visually comparable animal being a camel however, it had spots like a leopard.
Giraffe - close resemblance to a camel
Latin name: Giraffa giraffa
Giraffe and its young
What Do African Giraffe Eat?
Being so tall allows them to take advantage of an untapped niche of abundant food in the tree canopy. With no competition (apart from elephants) giraffe are classically known to feed on Acacia leaves. Extremely high in protein this food source is highly sort after.
Using their 40 cm long prehensile tongue and nimble lips giraffe can easily pick in between the sharp thorns or spiky branches. Even though they are careful they do sometimes eat the thorns, but with their incredibly rubbery lips and mouth they don’t even seem to notice.
Although acacia is their preferred food giraffe will feed on many other plants and bushes. However, they do utilise some odd sources to supplement their diet- a practice called geophagia is when animals will eat soil to obtain trace minerals such as salt, that are missing in their usual diet. Eating soil sounds strange, but giraffe have also been known to practice osteophagia, where they obtain extra calcium from chewing on bones!
Giraffe eating from the vegetation
How Big is an African Giraffe's Heart?
Imagine if you had a 2-meter-long neck, your heart would have to pump your blood against gravity all the way up to your brain. So how strong would your heart have to be? Well for a fully grown giraffe their hearts can weight up to 12kg (26lb) and can be about 60cm (2ft) long.
This huge muscle produces blood pressure at almost double that of a human's heart, although because of gravity this pressure is reduced before it reaches the brain.
But what happens when a giraffe has to put his head down to drink? The huge heart is now pumping blood downhill at an incredible pressure towards the brain. The brain wouldn't be able to cope with this pressure and blood vessels would burst leading to bleeding in the brain.
How does a giraffe survive this? Through an ingenious system call the Rete mirabile- a complex series of blood vessels that catch the blood and reduce its pressure, slowly feeding blood into the brain at a speed and pressure that won't cause any damage.
Giraffe drinking water (photo - Discover Safaris)
Do African Giraffe Have Any Predators?
Although these giant herbivores can weigh over a tonne, in some areas lions have learnt to hunt them. A giraffe can be extremely dangerous, kicking with both their front and back legs, a flying hoof would easily kill a lion.
However, these clever predators have learnt to chase them through thick bush or uneven terrain in the hopes that the giraffe will lose their footing and slip. Once down, giraffe have a very hard time getting back on their feet.
Below is a video by National Geographic of lions attempting to take down a giraffe:
Do African Giraffe Fight?
Having such long necks, traditional butting heads is not an option for giraffe. They have adapted a unique fighting style that is more elegant and beautiful, however, serious fights can end up in serious injuries and sometimes even death. The giraffe stand side by side, facing the same direction. They then take it in turns to swing their heads like battering rams aiming to hit the other in the hindquarters, chest or lower neck area with his ossicones (horns).
Usually giraffe are peaceful creatures, living in loose herds they come and go. But males do hold a strict hierarchy when it comes to mating rights and they will fight viciously to stay on top.
Here's our video of a giraffe neck battle:
How Do African Giraffe Sleep?
When thinking about animals sleeping it is important to remember that animals don't need as much sleep as us humans. Giraffe have one of the shortest sleep requirements of any land mammal.
They only need brief naps throughout the day, this they will do while standing. However, they do need to lie down to obtain the deep sleep necessary to them, this is usually in the early hours of the morning.
Giraffe lie down with their legs folded under them and their head straight up. They can do this because they have a specialised tendon that runs down the back of the neck which keeps it straight upright in a relaxed position.
Interestingly, giraffe only have seven vertebrae in their neck, the same number as a human.
A moment to relax with the legs tucked under the body (photo - Discover Safaris)
Are There Giraffe in Victoria Falls?
The town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is surrounded by wilderness and there are several game parks just on the doorstep of Victoria Falls. Giraffe are seen in big numbers in Zambezi National Park, Chobe National Park, Hwange National Park, Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve and the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, all of which are within very close proximity to Victoria Falls.
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