GIRAFFE } Giraffa camelopardalis

Family: Giraffidae

Description: The tallest land mammal, with a neck as long as 6 feet, the giraffe is also well known for the unique brown and white pattern on its coat (“pelage”) and its lengthy eyelashes and legs.

Habitat: Giraffes use both semi-arid savannah and savannah woodlands in Africa.

Range: Giraffes are found in fragmented habitats scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Breeding: Giraffe pregnancy usually lasts about 15 months, with two-year intervals between births. Females give birth throughout the year and usually reach sexual maturity between the ages of five and seven years. Males reach sexual maturity between seven and eight years of age and travel extensively to detect and investigate females receptive to mating.

Life Cycle: Giraffes can live as long as 25 years.

Feeding: Giraffes eat a very wide variety of trees and shrubs and spend a large part of each day browsing.

Threats: Giraffes have experienced severe habitat loss and fragmentation as a result of the expansion of human activities into their habitats. Uncontrolled timber harvest, the conversion of native habitat for agricultural development, mining, poor land-use planning, and urban expansion have all played a role in the loss and degradation of giraffe habitat. Giraffes are hunted both legally and illegally for sport and for their parts and products. Lack of enforcement of local laws, in addition to civil unrest in certain parts of giraffes' range, have allowed poaching for bushmeat, bones, tail hair and other giraffe parts to become a leading cause of this species' mortality and a major contributor to its decline. Poaching and legal sport hunting are both spurred by the international trade in giraffe parts and products. Giraffes are further threatened by the proliferation of diseases like giraffe skin disease, as well as inbreeding depression in isolated populations, collisions with automobiles and airplanes, and the increased frequency and magnitude of droughts associated with climate change.

Population Trend: Giraffes once occupied much of the savannah and savannah woodlands of Africa, but the species currently remains in only a fraction of that expansive range. According to the IUCN's 2016 estimate, giraffes have undergone a 36–40 percent population decline over the past 30 years. Today roughly 97,500 giraffes remain in Africa — compared to the 150,000-plus giraffes recorded in Africa in 1985 (or within the last three generations).

Subspecies:  There are currently nine subspecies of giraffes that are generally recognized by taxnomonists: West African (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta); Kordofan (G. c. antiquorum); Nubian (G. c. camelopardalis); reticulated (G. c. reticulata); Rothschild's (G. c. rothschildi); Masai (G. c. tippelskirchi); Thornicroft's (G. c. thornicrofti); Angolan (G. c. angolensis); and South African (G. c. giraffa).


Giraffe photo by Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity