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Scientific Name: Giraffa camelopardalis

Photo courtesy of ©Richard W. Rokes.


Giraffes are the tallest living land animals—males, or bulls, can reach up to 19 feet high. With long legs, long necks and tongues that measure 18 inches, giraffes can pull leaves off the thorny acacia tree, one of the dietary staples of these giant browsers of the African plains. Ironically, giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks (seven) as people do—just larger! And while their legs may appear similar to those of horses, giraffes can only walk or run, not trot.

Female giraffes give birth standing up, so their six-foot tall newborns are welcomed to the world with a six-foot fall to the ground. Youngsters are born with distinct and uniquely patterned coats. They grow about 3 inches a month, doubling their height in their first two years. To drink, giraffes must spread their legs and bend at the knees in order to reach the ground. They can survive more than two-three days without water if they have access to food.

Giraffes communicate by grunts, snorts and soft whistles; calves will also bleat. In addition, giraffes will call to each other infra-sonically, making noises too low for human ears to detect.


Historically, the eight subspecies of giraffe ranged throughout the open spaces of Africa. Presently, they live in the open woodlands south of the Sahara desert.

Status in the Wild

Giraffes are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The population of giraffes in many regions of Africa reveals an overall decline in numbers.

Giraffes at Riverbanks

Riverbanks Zoo has housed giraffes since opening nearly 45 years ago. Currently, five females and three males reside in the African Savanna exhibit. Make plans now to feed the giraffes at the Giraffe Overlook.