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The giraffe is the tallest of all land animals. Its heart can be over two feet long and is engineered with a network of bypasses and anti-pooling valves that allow the giraffe to raise and lower its 500-pound (227 kg) neck and head without fainting. NASA scientists have studied the giraffe’s uniquely created anatomy to help them develop gravity suits.
A giraffe has only seven vertebrae in its neck, as do all mammals. The neck was designed so this animal could feed from the high branches of trees. Giraffes have a unique pattern of spots. No two are the same.
All giraffes have outgrowths of bone on their heads, called ossicones, that look like horns. Even baby giraffes have them. When the baby is born, the horns are gristle and lie flat, but as the giraffe matures, the horns turn to bone and are covered with hair.
Giraffes are herbivores and feed on leaves and buds of trees, their favorite being the acacia. Females feed on the lower branches while the males reach the higher ones. They have a tongue that extends their reach by as much as 20 inches (51 cm). Like the cow, a giraffe has no incisors on its upper jaw, but has a pad that it uses to bite and tear. It does have jaw teeth that it uses to chew its cud like a cow.
Social animals that travel in herds ranging from 2 to 40, giraffes have excellent eyesight and hearing. They have few enemies; however, lions will attack babies and even some adults. Giraffes can be a poor choice for a lion’s meal, since they have been known to kick the head off of a lion with their powerful hind kick.
The giraffe is silent most of the time but can make a wide variety of sounds, including mooing, bleating, bellowing, snoring, whistling, grunting, and coughing.
The giraffe’s gestation period is 15 months and she gives birth in a special area designated for calving. Most baby animals are born head first. Since the mother giraffe gives birth standing up, her calf is born rear end first. This protects the baby’s head and neck from hitting the ground and breaking as it is born. Within an hour the calf is able to wobble about and may even run a short distance. The calf stands about six feet tall (2 m) and weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) at birth.
Man is the only threat to the giraffe. It is hunted still for food although it is against the law. Giraffes have long been a favorite in zoos around the world and have been given as rare and valuable gifts from one king to another in Europe and Asia.
Artiodactyla • Giraffadae • Giraffa camelopardarlis
Height: 18 feet (5.5 m)
Weight: 1,765 to 4,200 pounds (801–1,905 kg)
Length: 5 feet (150 cm)
Life Span: 25 years
Special Design Feature: The giraffe has a large heart to allow it to raise and lower its head without fainting.
Did You Know? The giraffe has the same number of vertebrae in its neck (seven) as humans do.