Introduction: The giraffe is the tallest of all animals and the name is derived from the Arabic zarafah (the one who walks quickly). The giraffe gets its great height from its legs, which are around 2m long and a neck which may be even longer. Two bony 'horns' grow from the giraffe's skull. These horns, which are covered by skin and hair, resemble deer's antlers before the antlers develop branches. They are not true horns because they do not have a horny covering. Some giraffes also have one or more short hornlike bumps on the forehead. The horns of the female are smaller than those of the male.

A giraffe can close its nostrils completely to keep out sand and dust (a handy trick in a dusty country like Namibia). It uses its long upper lip and its tongue, which is about 53cm long, to gather food from tree branches. Giraffes have good vision and they seldom use its voice, though it can utter a variety of soft sounds.

Despite the length of its neck, a giraffe only has 7 neck bones – the same number as humans and most other animals. A short mane grows along the back of the neck from the head to the shoulders. The sloping back measures about 1.5m from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. The tail is about 91cm long and ends in a tuft of long black hairs. A giraffe's hoofs are split into two parts. Each part consists of the hardened top of one toe. A giraffe's closest relative – and the only other member of the giraffe family – is the okapi.

Giraffes walk by moving both legs on one side of the body forward almost together and then both legs on the other side. When giraffes gallop, both hind feet swing forward and land outside and in front of the front feet. Giraffes can gallop up to 56 km per hour, three times faster than a Windhoek taxi driver looking for passengers. A giraffe usually sleeps standing up. When lying down, it holds its neck upright or rests it on one of its hips or on a low tree limb.

Female giraffes and their young often form small, loosely organized groups. They are joined from time to time by an adult male. Giraffes stay in the same general area for most of their lives, which often covers around 75km². A bull fights with another by butting its head against the neck or chest of its opponent. If a fight becomes serious, the powerful blows may be heard at a distance of 100m, however, the animals rarely injure each other.  Females do not fight.

Lions are the only animals that attack adult giraffes. A lion may kill a giraffe if it catches the victim lying down or if it springs onto the giraffe's back from ambush.  Giraffes defend themselves by kicking with their front feet. Their kicks are sometimes powerful enough to kill a lion.  Young giraffes may be killed by lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas and crocodiles.  

The tail hairs are used by some African tribes as bracelets and string. These bracelets can be bought by tourists, especially in places such as Post Street Mall in Windhoek. Hides are used for shields and twisted shredded tendons and ligaments to make bowstrings.

Distribution: Giraffes can only be found in Africa south of the Sahara, in small groups on grasslands.  In Namibia they are commonly found in Etosha National Park and many private game reserves, while wild free roaming populations are often found in Damaraland & Kaokoland.

Diet: Giraffes love acacia trees and browse leaves, twigs and fruit from trees that grow in scattered groves. A giraffe, like a cow, chews a cud, which is food that has entered the stomach but is returned to the mouth for a second chewing. Giraffes can go without drinking water for many weeks and drink by spreading their forelegs far apart, or bending them forward, so that they can reach down to the water. This is when they are at their most vulnerable, especially at water holes. They are understandably hesitant and visibly nervous when drinking. If they feel the slightest bit uncertain about the safety of the situation, then they'll forgo the opportunity altogether.

Colouring: Every giraffe has its own distinct patch-like coat pattern. These markings are of a tawny (light brownish-yellow) to chestnut-brown colour. The lines that separate the patches are a lighter tawny or white. This colour pattern helps protect giraffes by making them hard to see when they stand amongst trees. Each individual giraffe has its own distinct coat pattern, adding to the camouflage effect.

Breeding: A female giraffe carries her young inside her body for about 15 months, before giving birth. Giraffes bear one baby at a time, except for rare cases of twins. At birth, a calf may stand as tall as 1.8m and weigh as much as 68kg. It can stand up within an hour. The cow (female giraffe) nurses its young with milk or green plants from the age of 2 weeks and can bear her first baby when she is 5 years old. In the wild, giraffes may live as long as 28 years.

Size: Male giraffes can grow to more than 5.5m, taller than the African elephant, the second tallest animal. The average size of the male is around 5.2m and most females grow to about 4.3m. Even though giraffes tower over other animals, most adult males weigh only about 1,200kg. A male African elephant may weigh more than five times as much.

Mammals of Namibia Wildlife of Namibia

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