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Friday, January 13, 2012

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Giraffe


The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest extant terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant. Its specific name refers to its camel-like face and irregular patches of color on a light background, which bear a vague resemblance to a leopard's spots. The giraffe is also noted for its extremely long neck and legs and prominent horns. It stands 5–6 m (16–20 ft) tall and has an average weight of 1,200 kg (2,600 lb) for males and 830 kg (1,800 lb) for females. It is classified under the family Giraffidae, along with its closest extant relative, the okapi. There are nine subspecies of giraffe, which differ in size, coloration, pattern and range.


The giraffe's range extends from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south and from Niger in the west to Somalia in the east, but it is very scattered. Giraffes usually inhabit savannas, grasslands and open woodlands. They prefer areas with plenty of acacia trees, which are important food sources. Because of their extreme height, giraffes can browse for vegetation that most other herbivores cannot reach. While adults are nearly invulnerable to predation, lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and wild dogs prey on calves. Although they commonly gather together, giraffe aggregations usually disband every few hours. Male giraffes use their necks as weapons in combat, a behavior known as "necking". Dominant males each mate with multiple females. Females bear the sole responsibility for raising their young.


 The giraffe has intrigued various cultures, both ancient and modern, for its peculiar appearance, and has often been featured in paintings, novels and cartoons. The giraffe is classified by the IUCN as Least Concern. However, it has been extirpated from many parts of its former range, and some subspecies are classified as endangered. Nevertheless, giraffes are still found in numerous reserves.





Giraffes were probably a favorite target for the hunters of the Sahara, the Kalahari and central and eastern Africa. They were hunted for their tails, hides and meat. The tails were used as good luck charms, for thread and as flyswatters; the skin was used for shields, sandals and drums; the tendons were used for stringed instruments and thread; the hairs were used to make necklaces and bracelets. The smoke of burning giraffe skins was prescribed by the medicine men of Buganda as a cure for persistent nose bleeding. European explorers also hunted them. Habitat destruction has hurt the giraffe, too: in the Sahel, trees are cut down for firewood and to make way for livestock. Normally, giraffes can coexist with livestock, since they feed on the trees above the latter's heads.


Overall, the giraffe is assessed as Least Concern from a conservation perspective by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as it is still widespread and lives in numerous reserves. However, giraffes have been extirpated from Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania and Senegal. They may also have disappeared from Angola, Mali, and Nigeria, but have been introduced to Rwanda and Swaziland. Two subspecies, the West African giraffe and the Rothschild giraffe, have been classified as endangered, as wild populations of each of them number in the hundreds. In 1997, Jonathan Kingdon suggested that the Nubian giraffe was the most threatened of all giraffes; as of 2010, it may number fewer than 250, but little recent information is available and consequently that estimate is the subject of considerable uncertainty. While giraffe populations have declined in western Africa, they are stable and expanding in southern Africa thanks to private game reserves. The giraffe is a protected species in most of its range. In 1999, the total wild giraffe population was estimated at over 140,000. However, estimates in 2010 indicate that fewer than 80,000 remain.

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