The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant. Its species name refers to its camel-like shape and its leopard-like colouring. Its chief distinguishing characteristics are its extremely long neck and legs, its horn-like ossicones, and its distinctive coat patterns. It is classified under the family Giraffidae, along with its closest extant relative, the okapi. The nine subspecies are distinguished by their coat patterns.
The giraffe's scattered range extends from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south, and from Niger in the west to Somalia in the east. Giraffes usually inhabit savannahs, grasslands, and open woodlands. Their primary food source is acacia leaves, which they browse at heights most other herbivores cannot reach. Giraffes are preyed on by lions; their young are also targeted by leopards, spotted hyenas, and African wild dogs. Giraffe are gregarious and may gather in large aggregations. Males establish social hierarchies through "necking", which are combat bouts where the neck is used as a weapon. Dominant males gain mating access to females, which bear the sole responsibility for raising the young.
The giraffe has intrigued various cultures, both ancient and modern, for its peculiar appearance, and has often been featured in paintings, books, and cartoons. It is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as Least Concern, but has been extirpated from many parts of its former range, and three subspecies are classified as Endangered. Nevertheless, giraffes are still found in numerous national parks and game reserves.
The name "giraffe" has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word zarafah perhaps borrowed from an the animal's Somali name geri. The Arab name is translated as "fast-walker". There were several Middle English spellings, such as jarraf, ziraph, and gerfauntz. The Italian form giraffa arose in the 1590s.The modern English form developed around 1600 from the French girafe.
The species name camelopardalis is from Latin. "Camelopard" is an archaic English name for the giraffe deriving from the Ancient Greek for camel and leopard, animals which the giraffe was thought to resemble.
Like all mammals, giraffes have only seven bones in their necks.
There are about nine different subspecies of giraffe. There are only small differences between them. When giraffes of two different sub-species breed, the young are called hybrids (mixed breeds). Of the nine sub-species of giraffe, only one, the Rothchild's, is endangered.
Giraffes have horns called ossicones. These are fur-covered bumps on their skulls, unlike the horns of other animals. Giraffe skin is blotched in patterns of browns and yellows. No two giraffes have the same pattern. The different sub-species have different coat patterns.
Giraffes eat mostly leaves from tall trees, which they can reach because of their long legs and long necks, as well as Fruit. They can go without water for weeks.
Giraffes live alone or in loose groups. Young male giraffes form small groups until they become mature. Adult males live alone. Females form groups of 4–32 animals. When the female is close to giving birth, it leaves the group for a time to give birth to its offspring, and comes back 2-3 weeks after her baby is born.
After a pregnancy of 14-15 months, the female gives birth to usually a single baby (which is called "calf"). Giraffes give birth while standing, so the baby falls down 2 metres. Giraffe calfs are already 2 m tall and weigh 50-55 kg. The calf stays with its mother for 1½ years. Young giraffes become mature when they are 4 years old, and they are fully grown when they are 6 years old. Giraffes can become 25 years old, in captivity they can become 35 years old.