Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) are the world's tallest living land mammals, with some exceeding 5m from top to toe. The giraffe's long neck has the same number of vertebrae as other mammals, but each one is greatly elongated. The giraffe's great height is an adaptation for feeding on young leaves in the upper branches of trees, which other browsing mammals cannot reach.

Giraffes have excellent sight, and because of their height they have the greatest range of vision of any terrestrial animal. If a giraffe spots danger, it will run away at speeds of up to 56kph. Occasionally, a giraffe will face its attacker, striking out with its front hooves or swinging its head like a club.

In order to reach fresh grass or drinking water, giraffes must splay their front legs apart, so that they can get their heads down to ground level. Giraffes settle on to their withdrawn legs to rest, and lie down when sleeping, resting their heads back on their hindquarters.

In times gone by, giraffes could be found in parts of North Africa, but due to a combination of over-hunting and the effects of climate change on vegetation, they are now only thinly distributed south of the Sahara Desert.


ARKive photos and videos of the giraffe

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