Giraffes are thought to be one of the largest pollinators in the world, transferring seeds and other plant matter from one tree to another on their noses, lips and tongues. Acacia leaves form the bulk of the giraffe’s diet, but other trees are also browsed. A male, or bull, can eat up to 80kg of leaves each day, along with bark and fruit.
Giraffes are nearly 2 metres in height when first born and males can reach a height of more than 5 metres when fully grown. Excellent eyesight and a good sense of hearing are features of all giraffe subspecies. A giraffe can see a human standing 2km away! Although giraffes don’t have a distinct sound easily identifiable to them, they do communicate with one another through snorts, grunts and low grumbling.
Giraffes have a very characteristic walk of moving both legs on the same side of the body simultaneously so they don’t trip themselves up! If alarmed or being chased, giraffes can run at speeds of 60km/h. In order to defend itself a giraffe will kick out vigorously with its long and powerful legs. Male giraffes will also use their powerful necks and the horn-like ossicones on the top of their head to ‘play fight’ as they are growing up, and to battle for dominance when they are older.
Although as a species giraffe are listed as ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN red list), their numbers have declined from over 140,000 to less than 80,000 in under 20 years. There are nine subspecies of giraffe, and each subspecies is distinguished from each other by their coat patterns and geographical locations. Two subspecies, the West African or Nigerian giraffe, and the Rothschild’s giraffe are both listed as endangered.
Poaching for the giraffe’s pelt, meat and tail has significantly reduced wild populations (the hair that grows at the end of the tail is used for threading beads and making bracelets for the tourist trade). Continued human population growth is encroaching on areas where giraffe formerly roamed freely resulting in competition for natural resources, habitat degradation and fragmentation. Civil unrest and armed conflict in several countries has also had a major impact on giraffe distribution across the African continent.
Visiting our giraffes at the Zoo will not only open your eyes to these wondrous, sky-scraping mega-herbivores, but also provides an opportunity to learn about the Zoo’s conservation program, Beads for Wildlife, which helps communities and wildlife in Northern Kenya.