The giraffe is native to Africa and is the tallest mammal in the world, measuring up to 19 feet for an adult male. Like many animals, the giraffe has had to adapt to its habitat to survive. It displays a number of physical and behavioural characteristics developed over generations so it can thrive in the wild.
The giraffe has an herbivorous diet. It feeds on tree leaves and stems, in particular acacias. Several physical adaptations help a giraffe eat. It uses its long neck to reach leaves high on an acacia tree and its lips are tough to protect against the spiny thorns of the acacia. A giraffe's tongue can grow up to 21 inches long. It can wrap around high branches and strip leaves off it to eat. The roof of the mouth is grooved so leaves are easily stripped off. A giraffe has adapted to drink water only every few days, as they are most vulnerable to predator attacks when they bend down to drink from water holes.
Giraffes have adapted their sleeping ability also to deal with predator dangers. A giraffe is most vulnerable to attacks if it is bending down or lying on the ground. It cannot jump up quickly if an animal is attacking. Therefore, it has developed the ability to rest with its eyes open while standing up. A giraffe can survive with as little as 20 minutes of sleep a day. It will lie down to sleep only at night to reduce the risk of ambush. It may only sleep deeply for up to 10 minutes at night.
Caring for Young
Newborn giraffes have a 50 per cent mortality rate in their first month. A calf is prey for hyenas, lions and leopards. Adult giraffes have adapted their behaviour to protect their young from danger. A mother won't leave her calf's side while it's young. If the mother does have to wander to forage for food she will leave her calf in a nursery group with other calves, called a creche. The creche is protected at all times by other female giraffes.
Giraffes inhabit savannahs and open woodlands across sub-Saharan Africa. There are nine subspecies of giraffe, each with a different patterned coat, and each coat acts as a good camouflage for the African savannah. The giraffe has developed a few physical adaptations to survive in the hot desert climate. Giraffe skin is thick and insulates it from the hot temperature. Long eyelids protect the eyes from ants and sharp acacia thorns. A long fringed tail wafts flies and other insects away, while feet are protected from rough terrain with tough hooves.