Giraffes (genus Artiodactyla) have three subspecies: Maasai (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi), reticulated (Giraffa reticulate), and Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi). These subspecies differ only in their blotch pattern, and their distribution. All other characteristics are the same. The pattern of their coats is fixed for life, making it possible for human observers to distinguish one animal from another. Animals tend to get darker with age. It is not easy to distinguish males from females although males tend to be a little bigger and seem to spend more time feeding from tree canopies than females, which prefer to feed on low-lying vegetation.
Giraffes have very long necks which curiously have only seven bones, no more than the necks of any other animals although giraffe vertebrae are elongated. Both sexes are born with horns which are covered by skin and topped with black hair.
Giraffes weigh up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds). They have a high centre of gravity and this together with their weight, may account for their strange gait. Walking is almost a “pace”: both legs on one side appear to move at the same time making it look as if the giraffe is rolling. When galloping, the hind legs swing forward together to plant in front of the forefeet. Giraffes can reach a maximum speed of 60 kph (37 mph).
They inhabit open woodland and wooded grassland. They may also be seen in bushed grassland and occasionally at a forest edge. Giraffes often frequent drainage line vegetation in the dry season. Riparian thickets are the only place you are likely to see them in dense vegetation.
Giraffes are diurnal, but also move about at night. They sometimes utter snorts and grunts, but are normally silent animals. Often the only noise to be heard when giraffes move by is the click of their hooves when the foot is lifted clear of the ground as weight is removed from them.
These long-legged animals have few enemies. They are most vulnerable when drinking when they splay their front legs and lower their heads often in the vicinity of thick, waterside vegetation. Animals will only drink after carefully looking around. Young animals may be taken by lions if the adults are not around. Females will defend their young against any attacker by kicking with their front legs. The mortality rate up to the age of three is about 8 percent which is not so different from the 3 percent adult average.
Giraffes are not much hunted by man. They only rarely raid local maize farms and their feeding habits make them almost impervious to drought. This might be the reason why, as other wildlife species continueto disappear, the giraffe seems to have become the only remnant of a formerly impressive wildlife array.
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