Giraffes have been on the earth for thousands of years, and are commonly seen in prehistoric cave paintings. Although they are large and rather awkward, they are also unique and magnificent, and have learnt how to survive and even thrive in nature. Giraffes, if left alone, can live long and active lives.
Giraffes have adapted to their environment by becoming the tallest living creatures in the world. This allows them to reach high-up vegetation for survival. Their distinctive gait includes moving both right legs at the same time and then moving both left legs. They are probably best known for their distinctive spots, which camouflage them in the vegetation, and their long necks and legs. Giraffes weigh from 726 to 1,089 kg (1,600 to 2,400 lb) and can grow up to 5.8 metres (19 feet) tall.
Geography and environment
Giraffes live in the arid, inhospitable areas of central, eastern and southern Africa, the Sahara desert and the savannas of Africa. They live by eating the foliage from trees, and have evolved to reach vegetation that is inaccessible to other herbivores. This allows them to live in any area long after the grasses are gone. They can also go for several days without drinking water.
Baby giraffes stay very close to their mother for the first week of their life. They depend on their mother for food and protection. During this time, both mother and baby are protected by the herd. When a female giraffe is away eating, her baby is taken into a nursery group for protection. Babies are 1.8 metres (6 feet) tall and 45 to 52 kg (100 to 115 lb) at birth.
Giraffes mature at three to five years of age. Adult giraffes are social and peaceful, and move in groups called herds. They do not separate according to age or sex, as many animals do. Giraffes live and reproduce for an average of 15 to 20 years if they aren't killed by predators.
The gestation period for giraffes is 14 to 15 months long. Giraffes generally give birth to only one calf, for both the safety of the mother and calves; taking care of and protecting more than one calf would strain a mother giraffe.
In China, where giraffes were first imported as curiosities, they were thought to be a cross between a camel and a leopard. This led to their odd Latin name: Giraffa camelopardalis.