Giraffa camelopardalis



The giraffe is an Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) mammal and it belongs to the Giraffidae family, that counts only one other extant member: the okapi. The giraffe is an unmistakable animal, thanks to its shape and size. It has an exceptionally long neck, a relatively short body, and very long legs. It is the tallest living terrestrial animal, exceeding by far the height of 5 meters and a 1 ton weight. Nine are the known subspecies, which differ in shape, in size and in the colour of the patches, which compose the distinctive spotted coat. Each individual is characterised by its own unique pattern, distinguishable from the others.
The males are generally taller and heavier than females, reaching exceptionally a 6 meters heigh and a 1,600 kg weight. The neck can exceed 2 meters and is composed by 7 extremely stretched cervical vertebrae, as the neck of every other mammal. On its head there are two small horns covered by hair (ossicones) and a middle bony protuberance, that is more noticeable in males. The tongue is really long (50 cm), fibrous and coriaceous, and it allows the giraffe to eat acacia leaves, careless of the horns on the plants’ branches.
If the giraffe wants to touch the ground with its head (for example drinking), it has to spread its front legs wide open; it may rest kneeling on all four limbs. It has only two speeds: the pitch or the gallop. These animals don’t form herds and don’t exhibit a high sociality.
Widespread throughout most of sub-saharan Africa, they inhabit wooded savannahs and woodlands, where they leave preferentially on the leaves of acacia or other trees. During mating season, the males fight leaning one against each other, using the neck as a weapon (necking). Each female gives birth to a single calf. At birth, the giraffe is approximately 180 cm tall and its neck is shorter than it would be as an adult, to facilitate the delivery. The giraffes have an average life expectancy of about 25 years, that is very long if compared to other ruminants. The adults have no natural predators, even if occasionally they can be preyed on by lions, leopards, african wild dogs and spotted hyenas.

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