An adult, male giraffe can be as tall as 19 feet, and its legs are as tall as a 6-foot man’s height. Giraffes are remarkable mammals in so many ways. They spend most of their lives standing up, even sleeping and giving birth while standing. They can run short distances up to 35 mph which may very well save their lives from large predators such as lions or leopards. However, despite the females’ attempts to stand over and protect their calves during a predator’s attack, many calves are killed during the first few months of life. In the wild, a giraffe’s lifespan is 25 years, but in captivity, they have been known to live up to 40 years. Because of their long legs and the fact that their necks do not reach the ground, the most dangerous time for a giraffe is when they have to spread their front legs to get a drink of water. This manuever puts them in a vulnerable position for an attack from a lion or another large predator.
A giraffe’s patterning is interesting and unique to each individual giraffe; no two giraffes have the same pattern. Both the female and male have two hair-covered horns on the tops of their heads known as ossicones. When the males are dueling for a female, they will swing their long necks and use their ossicones as weapons. When bulls fight in this manner, it is referred to as “necking”. The dueling usually ends with one bull simply walking away and yielding to the stronger male. However, giraffes are social creatures and roam in social groups called “towers” which is usually led by a dominant male.
Because of their extremely long necks, giraffes can reach and eat plenty of vegetation. This allows them to get most of their water from the leaves that they eat. Therefore, they only need to drink water every couple of days. However, an adult giraffe does require about 75 lbs. of foliage per day to survive, and their long necks and 20 inch tongues help them to reach high up into the tops of trees to eat leaves that other herbivores are unable to reach. Their long necks contain only 7 vertebrae as do humans, but a giraffe’s vertebrae are much larger.
The circulatory system in a giraffe’s body has to be specially designed to accomodate the flow of blood from the heart up the length of the neck to the brain and down the extra long legs with enormous weight resting on slender ankles. This is accomplished with a super, muscular heart which is two feet long and weighs 25 lbs. and has the capacity to pump 16 gallons of blood per minute. This prevents the giraffe from becoming dizzy as he stands, and prevents swelling in his ankles from the weight of his body. NASA has even studied the giraffe’s unique design with arteries deep within thick muscular walls, and skin and tissue that act like compression stockings.
Giraffes are found in the savannas of Africa, and are not considered an endangered species at the present time. However, there is still some poaching for the giraffes’ tails.