Thursday, January 9, 2014

The regal giraffe is the tallest land animal on earth. With legs at an average of six feet, their limbs alone are taller than many humans. This leg length together with their elongated necks makes it possible for them to keep watch for any would be predators. In fact, their only known predators are crocodiles, lions and humans.

Serious drinking problem

Crocodiles are a threat because of the cumbersome way in which giraffes drink water. A giraffe’s neck is shorter than its legs so they have to spread their legs and crane their necks to drink. While waterside sipping is dangerous for most animals in the wild it’s particularly so for giraffes. In the awkward spread-leg stance they are vulnerable to predators, particularly hungry crocs (link to the blog crocodile article). That said giraffes drink water when it’s readily available but they are not heavy drinkers and are able to survive when water is scarce. They drink every other day, if that, and much of the water they ingest comes from the foliage they eat.

What “giraffe” means

“Giraffa” or “Zhirapha” means “one who walks swiftly”. Don’t be fooled by the giraffe’s lumbering gait. While it only knows two modes of travel: walking and galloping, this majestic animal can cover great distances with each step. Even when it’s taking a leisurely stroll, one step is the equivalent of approximately 4.5 metres.

Olympic short distance runners

They’re also swift runners and can run as fast as 56 kilometres per hour (35 miles per hour). When you consider than humans run an average of 16 kilometres per hour (10 miles per hour) giraffes are not too shabby in the track and field department. And, while they tend to tire easily, they have been known to evade lions with their sudden, brief sprints.

Samurai sword hooves

A giraffe’s hooves are powerful and approximately 12 inches in diameter – the size of an average dinner plate. When attacked a giraffe instinctively kicks out with its powerful hooves and can kill a lion with one blow or even sever its head. Necking or making out Many images reflect the romantic love overtures between two adult giraffes. The reality is that two giraffes rubbing necks together has very little to do with romance. It’s more like sparring and usually takes place between two male giraffes. This process can last up to twenty minutes and is called “necking”.

How to spot a giraffe

A giraffe’s spots resemble those of a leopard. These markings serve as clever camouflage. That’s why giraffes are often difficult to identify against a backdrop of trees. Spots help to calculate age but what’s even more interesting is that no two giraffes have the spot patterns. Look for trees in arid and dry savannah in parts of the Sahara and you may well get to do some giraffe spotting of your own.

Images courtesy of Jan Van Huysteen.



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