Nature focus

The Giraffe

by Arnaud Fleury

Largest of terrestrial animals with astonishing anatomic features, the Giraffe deserves attention!


Class : Mammals

Order:  Cétartiodactyles – Family : Giraffe – Genre Giraffa

Key features of the giraffe

Total height: 3.5 to 5 m (record 5.9 m) (Varies depending on the species)

Weight: from 1100 Kg to over 1500Kg for males and 700 Kg to 1200Kg females.

Neck length: Approx 2 meters

Tail length: 75 to 150 cm

Gestation: 14 to 15 months, approx 400 to 470 days

Number of young per litter: 1

Longevity: 15 to 20 years in the wild, 25 to 30 years in captivity

Maximum speed: from 15 to 55 km / hour

Subspecies and Geographical Distribution

The species are split into 9 subspecies for Girafa camelopardalis (a 2016 genetic study suggests only 6 species):

Sub-species Common name Geographical distribution
Peralta West African Giraffe Nigeria
Antiquorum Kordofan Giraffe Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Central Africa, Sudan
Camelopardalis Nubie Giraffe South Sudan, Ethiopia
Reticulata Réticulé Giraffe Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya.
Rothshildi Rothshild Giraffe Kenya, Uganda.
Tippelskirchi Masaï Giraffe Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda
Thornicrofti Thornicroft Giraffe Zambia
Angolensis Angolan Giraffe Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe
Giraffa Cape Giraffe South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique.

History and Origins

Giraffe drawing by Buffon (18th century).

« Giraffe »  originated in Arabic « Zarâfah ».  « Camelopardalus » comes from Latin «Camelus»  for the giraffes elongated neck (like a camel) and «Pardalis» for spots (like a leopard).

It all began 20 million years ago (in the Upper Miocene). This family of animals called giraffe probably had a common ancestor with the bovine family since they are both ruminants. Coming from the Indian subcontinent, they arrived in Africa around 6 to 7 million years ago. Giraffes appear to have been successful until fairly recent times.

Today there are only 2 species left the African Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and the Okapi (Okapia Johnstoni).




Giraffe are the largest of the land animals.Their spots are their identity card. At birth, the spots  are smaller. The shape will remain the same however the spots will grow as well as the spaces between them. The color of the spots darken with age.Both sexes have horns, more developed and thicker in the male. The giraffe is the only mammal that is born with these horns which are cartilage, and they are already present in the womb.

The horns are covered with skin and the top is covered in black hairs. In males, these hairs become less visible with age, the top becoming bald and shiny due to fighting.

The giraffe walks gracefully (it advances the front and rear legs on the same side at the same time) like a camel or a bear. The neck, thanks to the muscle pulling it forward, serves as a pendulum to balance the body when moving. Its speed goes from 15 to 55Km/h.

Running giraffes in the Okavango delta – Botswana

The blood circulation and breathing are proportionate with its size and are wonders of nature.