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Information on Giraffes

The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest of all land-living animal species, and the largest ruminant. Males can be 4.8 to 5.5 metres (16 to 18 feet) tall and weigh up to 1,700 kilograms (3,800 pounds). The record-sized bull, shot in Kenya in 1934, was 5.87 m (19.2 ft) tall and weighed approximately 2,000 kg (4,400 lb).

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. Its range extends from Chad to South Africa. Giraffes can inhabit savannas, grasslands, or open woodlands. They prefer areas enriched with acacia growth. They drink large quantities of water and, as a result, they can spend long periods of time in dry, arid areas. When searching for more food they will venture into areas with denser foliage.

Giraffids evolved from a 3 metre (10 ft) tall antelope-like mammal which roamed Europe and Asia 30-50 million years ago.

Both sexes have horns, although the horns of a female are smaller. The prominent horns are formed from ossified cartilage, and are called ossicones. The appearance of horns is a reliable method of identifying the sex of giraffes, with the females displaying tufts of hair on the top of the horns, where as males' horns tend to be bald on top — an effect of necking in combat. Males sometimes develop calcium deposits which form bumps on their skull as they age, which can give the appearance of up to three additional horns.

Giraffes have long necks which they use to browse tree leaves. They possess seven vertebrae in the neck (the usual number for a mammal) that are elongated. The vertebrae are separated by highly flexible joints. The base of the neck has spines which project upward and form a hump over the shoulders. They have anchor muscles that hold the neck upright. Giraffe are most active in the early morning and late afternoon but also feed at night in bright moonlight.

However, unlike many of Africa's wild animals that "disappear" under shady trees during the heat of the day, giraffe continue browsing and because of their size, can be spotted throughout daylight hours.

Giraffe will drink if water is available, but can survive without it. The forelegs are straddled and the knees bent in order to get the head down low enough. While drinking they are very vulnerable and will not drink if suspicious of danger.