Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)
This towering tree-muncher occurs across subSaharan Africa in nine different subspecies. These are distinguished from one another by their different patterns of blotches, but all share the extraordinarily long neck – of course –and many other peculiarities besides.
- The giraffe has the largest heart of any land mammal, weighing more than 11kg. It needs this massive organ in order to generate enough pressure for pumping blood around the extremities of its enormous body.
- The skin of a giraffe’s lower legs is extremely tight and acts like support stockings, restricting the circulation to reduce pressure on the blood vessels of the lower legs.
- A giraffe’s horns are known as ossicones and are fused to the skull. Mature male giraffes can be distinguished from young males and females because their ossicones are rubbed smooth by fighting.
- Male giraffes fight for dominance by swinging their heads and necks at one another in a ritualised combat known as ‘necking’. The winner gets to mate with more females.
- When walking, a giraffe moves both legs on one side of its body at the same time. When galloping, it rocks its head and neck back and forth to maintain balance, and can reach a top speed of 60kph.