The Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest of all land living animal species. Males can be 4.8 to 5.5 metres (16 to 18 feet) tall and weigh up to 900 kilograms (2000 pounds). Females are generally slightly shorter and weigh less. more...
Native to Africa, the Giraffe is related to deer and cattle, but is placed in a separate family, the Giraffidae, consisting only of the giraffe and its closest relative, the Okapi.
The species name camelopardalis (camelopard) is derived its early Roman name, where it was described as having characteristics of both a camel and a leopard (and perhaps being a hybrid of the two).
Giraffe is pronounced 'ji-raff', rather than 'ji-raff-ee'.
There are nine generally accepted subspecies, differentiated by color and pattern variations and range:
- Reticulated or Somali Giraffe (G.c. reticulata) — large, polygonal liver-colored spots outlined by a network of bright white lines. The blocks may sometimes appear deep red and may also cover the legs. Range: northeastern Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia.
- Angolan or Smoky Giraffe (G.c. angolensis) — large spots and some notches around the edges, extending down the entire lower leg. Range: Angola, Zambia.
- Kordofan Giraffe (G.c. antiquorum) — smaller, more irregular spots that do cover the inner legs. Range: western and southwestern Sudan.
- Masai or Kilimanjaro Giraffe (G.c. tippelskirchi) — jagged-edged, vine-leaf shaped spots of dark chocolate on a yellowish background. Range: central and southern Kenya, Tanzania.
- Nubian Giraffe (G.c. camelopardalis) — large, four-sided spots of chestnut brown on an off-white background and no spots on inner sides of the legs or below the hocks. Range: eastern Sudan, northeast Congo.
- Rothschild's or Baringo or Ugandan Giraffe (G.c. rothschildi) — deep brown, blotched or rectangular spots with poorly defined cream lines. Hocks may be spotted. Range: Uganda, north-central Kenya.
- South African Giraffe (G.c. giraffa) — rounded or blotched spots, some with star-like extensions on a light tan background, running down to the hooves. Range: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique.
- Thornicroft or Rhodesian Giraffe (G.c. thornicrofti) — star-shaped or leafy spots extend to the lower leg. Range: eastern Zambia.
- West African or Nigerian Giraffe (G.c. peralta) — numerous pale, yellowish red spots. Range: Chad.
Some sources combine Kordofan and West African, Nubian and Rothschild's, and Angolan and Southern African giraffes, respectively, into single subspecies. Four other subspecies have been described, but are not widely agreed upon: Cape Giraffe (G.c. capensis), Lado Giraffe (G.c. cottoni), Congo Giraffe (G.c. congoensis), and Transvaal Giraffe (G.c. wardi).
Giraffes are famous for their long necks which allow them to browse on the leaves of trees, and elongated forelegs (which appear much longer than the hind legs, but in reality, are only 1/10th longer). The bony structure of the neck is essentially unchanged from that of other mammals: there are no extra vertebrae, but each of the seven bones is greatly enlarged. Bone constitutes the bud-like horns called ossicorns, which are covered with the Giraffe's skin like the rest of the skull.
Modifications to the Giraffe's structure have evolved, particularly to the circulatory system. A giraffe's heart, which can weigh up to 24 lb (10 kg), has to generate around double the normal blood pressure for a large mammal in order to maintain blood flow to the brain against gravity. In the upper neck, a complex pressure-regulation system called the rete mirabile prevents excess blood flow to the brain when the Giraffe lowers its head to drink. Conversely, the blood vessels in the lower legs are under great pressure (because of the weight of fluid pressing down on them). In other animals such pressure would force the blood out through the capillary walls: Giraffes, however, have a very tight sheath of thick skin over their lower limbs which maintains high extravascular pressure in exactly the same way as a pilot's g-suit.
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