Most people are familiar with giraffes as the tall, long-necked animal who lives in Africa. And although this is correct, giraffes don’t all look the same, they are in fact very different from one another.
There are nine different subspecies in the Giraffidae Family (click here for more info). They live in all different parts of Africa and are distinguished from one another by their coat patterns.
Although each subspecies varies in size, the average height of giraffes is 16-20 feet tall; the males generally weigh 2,600 pounds, while the females weigh around 1,800 pounds.
The tallest mammal in the world, adult giraffes do not have too many animal predators because they can see so far. Crocodiles can be a problem for adults drinking water. But it’s the offspring who are vulnerable primarily to lions, wild dogs, and hyenas. Predators have to survive a hard, mean kick from the parent.
Named Twiga in Swahili, they are protected now in most of their range, but hunting and loss of habitat have diminished the giraffe population. While the entire species holds a “Least Concern” conservation status, some of the subspecies are dwindling close to extinction. Of the two giraffe subspecies photographed here, there are only 1,500 Thornicroft individuals and 5,000 Reticulated individuals left in the wild.
They can often be seen in loose herds feeding on acacia treetops. With a flexible upper lip and long prehensile tongue, they gobble down leaves on the world’s thorniest branches. It seems impossible for any living being to eat leaves among those three inch, spiky thorns, but the giraffe moves through a treetop without incident. Their special tongue is long (20 inches) and black; and is covered with papillae (protuberances) to protect against the thorns. Seeing that black tongue through the binoculars is pretty fun. It’s actually sort of dark purple-black.
Unlike horses who gave various gaits, giraffes only walk or gallop. When they do, their long legs and short trunk distribute their weight on the right or the left, creating an ambling walk. The long neck moves in synchrony, always maintaining the balance of this towering animal. Running is even more dramatic because the long tasseled tail pops from side to side.
I love all the animals on the African savannah. But sitting in that safari jeep as I listen to the guides talking in Swahili, when I hear “Twiga,” I light up and get ready.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander