At an average height of around 5m (16-18 ft.) the giraffe is the tallest land animal in the world.
An old tale led people to first believe that the giraffe was a cross between a leopard and a camel. The leopard (pardalis) because of its colouration, and the camel from the way it walks. It moves both legs on the one side of its body simultaneously.
Its extreme height allows it to reach the luscious leaves and shoots on trees which are much higher. It especially loves the acacia tree, and it uses its long tongue to pull leaves from the tree’s most extreme branches. Spending most of the day eating, a full-grown giraffe consumes over 45 kg (100 lb.) of leaves and twigs a day. It is known as the mammal pollinator of the Acacia tree (Acacia nigrescens) around the Kapama Game Reserve as it assists in the transfer of pollen and seeds from one tree to the next.
A newborn giraffe weighs about 100kg and can stand within 15 minutes of its birth. The mother will protect her calf only for the first few months of its life. After this it will group together with other calves to form a creche. Mother giraffes have been known to protect their calves from lions through a very powerful kick.
Reyneke, Camp Jabulani Guide, tells us of one of his most memorable sightings; “One evening when I was almost in bed I heard this unfamiliar sound. Curious as I am, I had to find out what it was so I jumped in my Land Rover immediately. It turned out to be a giraffe cow ‘screaming’ at lions that were after her calf. She chased them away, but as soon as she turned her back thinking her calf was following, the lions would attack the baby again. The mother kept chasing them away, over and over, but eventually the calf got too weak and we found the lions on the kill the next morning.”
Giraffes don’t have territories, but the male giraffe will establish a status hierarchy which will give him rights over cows in oestrus. This is determined through“necking” where two adversaries strike one another’s bodies with their horns. In serious fights, horns can be broken, and affected bulls will find it difficult to mate again as they do not grow back.
Giraffes rarely interact with each other, although they do prefer to be around one another. They don’t sleep often and will only lie down in the presence of other giraffes, as sleeping makes them vulnerable to attack.