My favorite animal to watch while we were on safari was the giraffe. Seemingly ungainly and often the butt of bad jokes, I found them to be majestic and elegant creatures to watch. They are extremely curious and sure to steal your heart with their long necks, beautiful patchwork coat and lovable nature. Despite that they are one of the most recognizable animals in the animal kingdom, there are a lot of unknown facts about giraffes. We had terrific guides throughout our SkySafari in Tanzania, visit to the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi and on safari with Angama Mara that were a wealth of knowledge, and we learned all about giraffes. Here are 10 things you might not know about giraffes.
1. Giraffes can go a really long time without drinking water.
Until you see it, you don’t realize how hard the world’s tallest animal has it. Sure, they may be able to reach the best leaves at the very top of the trees. But imagine the effort that giraffes have to go through just to get a drink of water.
They have to get into a pretty awkward position, spreading their front legs wide and craning their neck downward. Not only does it strain their neck, but the awkward position leaves them extremely vulnerable to predators like crocodiles.
To help with this, their digestive system can obtain almost all the water that they need from the leaves that they eat. Adult giraffes only need to drink once every couple of days, which is why it’s pretty rare to come across a giraffe drinking water.
2. You can tell if a giraffe is male or female by looking at the horns.
Both male and female giraffes have horns, but the tops of the horns on a male are almost always bald. A female giraffe’s horns will be completely covered with hair. This is because males establish dominance by fighting with other males, which is called necking, and the hair on top of the horns often gets torn off. Females don’t fight, so they never lose the hair on their horns.
And of list of interesting facts about giraffes wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that a giraffe’s horns are not actually horns at all! They are ossicones, which are horn-like protrusions. They’re formed from ossified cartilage that is covered with skin.
3. Giraffes weigh more than your car.
Giraffes look thin because they are so tall, but an adult male can weigh up to 3600 pounds and an adult female weighs on average 1800 pounds. The average sedan in the United States tips the scales between 1800 and 3000 pounds.
4. Giraffes can run. Fast.
Though most of the time you’ll see giraffes walking leisurely around, they can run. Just how fast do giraffes run? Their long legs help them run up to 35 miles per hour over short distances or to cruise comfortably around at 10 miles per hour over longer distances.
5. Giraffes and birds are friends.
Giraffes have a symbiotic relationship with some birds, who help giraffes keep clean by eating mites and dirt off of them. What do the birds get in return? A tasty meal and a free ride!
6. Baby giraffes are already 6 feet tall when born.
Baby giraffes weigh in at around 200 pounds and are already 6 feet tall when they are born. They learn to stand almost immediately at birth. They grow quickly, nearly doubling their height in their first year.
7. Giraffes eat around 75 lbs of foliage each day.
Most of the time on safari, you’ll find giraffes using their long necks to pluck leaves off the tops of trees. That’s because they spend most of their time eating each day and eat around 75 pounds of foliage every day.
The giraffe diet consists most often of their favorite meal: the leaves of acacia trees. Giraffes are considered the gardeners of the savannah because how they eat gives the acacia trees their distinctive shape.
Perhaps one of the most fun facts about giraffes is that giraffe tongues are extremely dexterous. Many plants and shrubs in Africa have various defenses, and the giraffe tongue is able to navigate around those defenses for a tasty meal of leaves, flowers, buds or even fruit when it’s in season.
8. A herd of giraffes is called a tower.
Giraffes are extremely social and non-territorial. They can live in groups of up to 30 animals that include both males and females, and a variety of ages. Unlike lions or elephants that have a structure to their herds, giraffes have no organization within their herds.
A group of giraffes is called a tower, and individuals with come and go from the tower at will.
9. White giraffes are very rare.
No pure albino giraffes have ever been discovered, but rare white giraffes do exist. White giraffes suffer from a genetic condition called leucism, which prohibits the skin cells from producing pigment, but their organs will be the regular dark color.
Because they are so rare, it was a special treat to happen upon a white giraffe with a calf in Serengeti National Park on our SkySafari by Elewana. White giraffes have only ever been spotted in Tanzania and Kenya.
10. No two giraffes’ spotted coats are alike.
When talking about giraffe facts, you can’t leave out their beautiful spotted coats. While the different sub-species of giraffes can appear to be similar, all giraffes have a unique pattern. Their spots also darken with age, and scientists have said that they can calculate their age from this darkening.
At the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, the guides can all identify each individual giraffe by their unique coats and know them by name. Researchers in the field also most often use their coats as the distinguishing feature for identifying individuals in towers of wild giraffe populations.