Giraffe — the tallest land animal. Many have seen them only in pictures and are not even able to imagine how amazing this animal is in real life. After all, not only growth distinguishes it from other animals, but also many other features.
The head of a giraffe is unlike anyone else: erect ears, blunt short horns, sometimes as many as five pieces, black eyelashes around huge eyes , and the language is generally striking in its length, color and shape. Not every zoo has giraffes, and if there are, then their enclosures usually go down to a certain depth, or occupy a couple of tiers so that you can see the animal as a whole.
Its giraffes are only peaceful herbivores, but they also treat people absolutely calmly. But people, in turn, in ancient times actively hunted giraffes. Man has found a lot of uses for everyday life from the skin of a giraffe, his tendons and even his tail. But this killed a huge number of individuals, and now people are smarter about hunting giraffes.
Origin of the species and description
It is difficult to imagine the origin of giraffes from any animal, they are very specific. But experts believe that they appeared about 20 million years ago from ungulates, most likely from deer. The homeland of these animals is considered to be both Asia and Africa. It is possible that after the appearance of giraffes in Central Asia, they quickly spread throughout Europe and ended up in Africa. Now it's hard to imagine a giraffe anywhere other than the African savannas.
However, the oldest discovered remains of living giraffes are about 1.5 million years old and they were found in Israel and Africa. Perhaps this is only one species that has survived to this time. Most giraffe species are thought to have died out. Scientists are recreating a picture of the past, where, in their opinion, both taller giraffes and more massive ones existed, and this was not limited to the giraffe family itself, it’s just that subsequently almost all of them died out and only one genus remained.
Actually, the giraffe, as a species, belongs to mammals, the artiodactyl order, the giraffe family. After the giraffe species was isolated back in the 18th century, science developed greatly.
Some subspecies were identified when studying the genetic material of individuals living in different territories:
- West African;
- Central African;
- Giraffe tornikroyta;
- South African.
All of them differ in the territory they occupy and a little pattern. Scientists claim that subspecies can interbreed — therefore, the division is not of particular importance and exists for the division of habitats. Experts also note that two giraffes with the same color scheme do not exist at all, and the underbody pattern of spots is like a passport of the animal.
Appearance and features
Giraffe — the tallest animal in the world, its height reaches seven meters, males are slightly taller than females. And also the fourth largest of the terrestrial, the maximum weight of giraffes reaches two tons, only the elephant, hippopotamus and rhinoceros have more.
The giraffe is famous for its long neck topped with a disproportionately small head. On the other hand, from below, the neck merges with the sloping body of the giraffe and ends in a long, up to one meter, tail with a tassel. The legs of the giraffe are also very long and occupy a third of the total height. They are thin and graceful, like those of antelopes, only longer.
Surprisingly, despite the huge length of the neck, which averages one and a half meters, giraffes, like all mammals, have only 7 cervical vertebrae. In order to work at such a length, they are elongated in the animal, in addition, the first thoracic vertebra is also elongated. The head of the animal is elongated, miniature and neat. The eyes are rather large and black, framed around by dense dark hard cilia. The nostrils are very prominent and large. The tongue of giraffes is very long, dark purple, sometimes brown, similar to a round, very flexible tourniquet. Erect, small, narrow ears.
Between the ears there are small horns in the form of two columns covered with leather and wool. Between these two horns, a middle small horn is sometimes seen, and it is more developed in males. Sometimes there are two more horns in the occipital part, they are called posterior or occipital. Such giraffes are called five-horned, and, as a rule, they are all male.
The older the giraffe, the more horns it has. With age, other bone outgrowths on the skull can also form, they can even determine the approximate age of the individual. The cardiovascular system of giraffes is interesting. It is special because the heart has to be able to pump blood to high altitudes. And when lowering the head, so that the pressure does not exceed the norm, the giraffes have vascular clots in the back of the head, which take the whole blow and smooth out the blood pressure drops.
A giraffe's heart weighs over 10 kg. This is the largest heart among mammals. Its diameter is about half a meter, and the muscular walls are six centimeters thick. The coat of giraffes is short and dense. On a more or less light background, brown-red spots of various asymmetrical, irregular, but isometric shapes lie solidly. Newborn giraffes are lighter than adults, darkening with age. Light-colored adults are very rare.
Where does the giraffe live?
In ancient times, giraffes inhabited the entire African continent, namely its flat surface. Now giraffes inhabit only some parts of the African continent. They can be found in the eastern and southern countries of the continent, for example, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Ethiopia, Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia. Very few giraffes are found in central Africa, namely in the states of Niger and Chad.
The habitual environment for giraffes is tropical steppes with sparsely growing trees. Water sources for giraffes are not so important, so they can stay away from rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. The localization of the settlement of giraffes in the territories of Africa is associated with their preference for food. For the most part, their numbers prevail in places with their favorite shrubs.
Giraffes can share territory with other ungulates because they don't share food with them. Giraffes are interested in what grows higher. Therefore, you can observe amazing huge herds of such unusual animals as wildebeest, zebras and giraffes. They can stay in the same territory for quite a long time, each eating its own food. But in the future they still diverge.
What does a giraffe eat?
Giraffes are very long animals, nature itself told them to eat the topmost leaves from the trees. In addition, his tongue is also adapted to this: its length is about 50 cm, it is narrow, it easily seeps through sharp thorns and captures juicy greens. He can wrap his tongue around a tree branch, pull him closer to him and pluck the foliage with his lips.
The most preferred forks of plants are:
- Wild apricots.
Practically all daylight hours giraffes spend at the meal. They need to consume up to 30 kg of food per day. Together with the foliage, the necessary amount of moisture enters and giraffes can do without water for weeks. Rarely, however, do they go to the rivers to drink. They have to spread their legs wide, lower their heads and stay in this position for a long time, quenching their thirst for weeks ahead. They can drink up to 40 liters of water at a time.
Giraffes neglect pasture. They can descend to it in the complete absence of their usual food. It is difficult for them to eat grass with their heads down, and they kneel down.
Character and lifestyle features
Giraffes are diurnal animals. Their greatest activity is confined to the early morning and late evening. In the middle of the day it can be extremely hot, and giraffes prefer to rest or settle among the branches of trees, resting their heads on them. All life passes in the unhurried consumption of food and a short rest. Giraffes sleep at night, and in fits and starts for several minutes. Experts say that the longest and deepest sleep in animals lasts no more than 20 minutes.
Giraffes move very interestingly: they alternately rearrange their front and hind legs in pairs, as if swaying. At the same time, their neck also sways very strongly. The design looks shaky and ridiculous.
Giraffes can communicate with each other at a frequency of 20 Hz. People do not hear this, but experts studied the structure of the animal's larynx and came to the conclusion that when they exhale, they really make hissing sounds that are heard only by themselves. The life span of individuals in the wild is about 25 years. However, in captivity, a much older age of animals has been recorded, namely 39 years.
Social structure and reproduction
Giraffes are herd animals, but rarely can live alone for some time. One group usually holds no more than 10 — 15 individuals. Within the same herd, there are dominant males who are more stately relative to the rest, the rest give way to them. Heads and necks fight for the title of chief, the loser remains in the herd as a minor, never expelled.
The mating season for giraffes occurs during the rainy season, namely in March. If seasonality is not particularly pronounced, then giraffes can mate at any time. Fights between males do not occur at this time, they are very peaceful. The females mate either with the dominant male or with the first available one.
The male approaches the female from behind and rubs his head against her, resting his neck on her back. After some time, the female either allows sexual contact with her, or rejects the male. The readiness of a female can be recognized by the smell of her urine.
The gestation period lasts a year and three months, after which one cub is born. During childbirth, the female bends her knees so that the baby does not fall from a height. The height of the newborn is about two meters, and the weight is up to 50 kg. He is immediately ready to assume an upright position and get to know the herd. Each giraffe in the group comes up and sniffs it, getting to know each other.
The lactation period lasts for a year, but the little giraffe begins to taste the leaves from the trees from the second week of life. After the mother finishes feeding the cub with milk, he can still stay near her for several months. Then, over time, it becomes independent. Females can bear offspring once every 2 years, but usually less often. At 3.5 years old, the cubs of the female become sexually mature and can also enter into a relationship with males and give birth to cubs. Males become sexually mature a little later. Giraffes reach their maximum growth as early as 5 years old.
Giraffe's natural enemies
Giraffes do not have many enemies, yet they are large animals that not every predator can defeat. Here lions, for example, are able to cope with a giraffe, their animal is afraid. In part, giraffes walk with their heads held high and look into the distance in order to see a predator in time and warn the herd about it. Lionesses sneak up on a giraffe from behind and jump on the neck, if they manage to bite through the organs well, then the animal quickly dies.
It can be dangerous to attack a giraffe from the front: they defend themselves with their front hooves and can break the skull of a stubborn one with one blow predator.
Giraffe cubs are always in the greatest danger. They are defenseless and weak, as well as miniature. This makes them vulnerable to a much larger number of predators than adults. The cubs are hunted by leopards, cheetahs, hyenas. Having strayed from the herd, the cub will absolutely become the prey of one of them.
The most dangerous predator for the giraffe has become a man. Why didn't people just kill these animals! This is the extraction of meat, skins, tendons, tails with tassels, horns. All this had a unique application. It is worth noting that when killing a giraffe, a person used all its components. Drums were covered with leather, tendons were used for bowstrings and stringed musical instruments, meat was eaten, tassels of tails went to fly swatters, and the tails themselves to bracelets. But then there were people killing giraffes just for fun — this has greatly reduced the number of individuals by now.
Population and species status
Giraffes have two reasons for their decline :
- Anthropogenic impact.
If nature protection services are struggling with the first, then you can’t get away from the second. The natural habitats of giraffes are constantly polluted and degraded. Despite the fact that giraffes get along calmly with people, they cannot put up with a polluted environment. The life span of giraffes is shortening, as well as the territories where giraffes can live peacefully.
However, they are not listed in the Red Book and have the status — causing the least concern. Although, experts say that one and a half thousand years ago, giraffes inhabited the entire continent, and not just its individual sections. The subspecies identified by scientists are based on the fact that the areas on the continent where giraffes live are clearly demarcated. It was easy to subdivide them on the basis of habitats.
In the wild, the hardest things to survive are cubs. Up to 60% of babies die in childhood. This is a very big loss for the herd, because they are always born one at a time. Therefore, the increase in numbers is highly doubtful. The largest number of animals currently live in nature reserves and national parks. Good conditions and ecology are created for them there. In the reserves, the giraffe can safely breed, here he will not be stressed by active human life.