Species: (various types)
|Reticulated, Rothschild, Rhodesian||camelopardalis|
The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant. Its species name refers to its camel-like shape and its leopard-like coloring. Its chief distinguishing characteristics are its extremely long neck and legs, its horn-like ossicones, and its distinctive coat patterns. It is classified under the family Giraffidae, along with its closest extant relative, the okapi. The nine subspecies are distinguished by their coat patterns.
The giraffe’s scattered range extends from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south, and from Niger in the west to Somalia in the east. Giraffes usually inhabit savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands. Their primary food source is acacia leaves, which they browse at heights most other herbivores cannot reach. Giraffes are preyed on by lions; their calves are also targeted by leopards, spotted hyenas, and wild dogs. Adult giraffes do not have strong social bonds, though they do gather in loose aggregations if they happen to be moving in the same general direction. Males establish social hierarchies through “necking”, which are combat bouts where the neck is used as a weapon. Dominant males gain mating access to females, which bear the sole responsibility for raising the young.
The giraffe has intrigued various cultures, both ancient and modern, for its peculiar appearance, and has often been featured in paintings, books, and cartoons. It is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as Least Concern, but has been extirpated from many parts of its former range, and some subspecies are classified as Endangered. Nevertheless, giraffes are still found in numerous national parks and game reserves.
The name “giraffe” has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word zarafa (?????), perhaps borrowed from an African language. The name is translated as “fast-walker”. There were several Middle English spellings, such as jarraf, ziraph, and gerfauntz. The word possibly was derived from the animal’s Somali name geri. The Italian form giraffa arose in the 1590s
The modern English form developed around 1600 from the French girafe.
The species name camelopardalis is from Latin. “Camelopard” is an archaic English name for the giraffe deriving from the Ancient Greek for camel and leopard, animals which the giraffe was thought to resemble.
Kameelperd is also the name for the species in Afrikaans. Other African names for the giraffe include ekorii (Ateso), kanyiet (Elgon), nduida (Gikuyu), tiga (Kalenjin and Luo), ndwiya (Kamba), nudululu (Kihehe), ntegha (Kinyaturu), ondere (Lugbara), etiika (Luhya), kuri (Ma’di), oloodo-kirragata or olchangito-oodo (Maasai), lenywa (Meru), hori (Pare), lment (Samburu) and twiga (Swahili and others) in the east; and tutwa (Lozi), nthutlwa (Shangaan), indlulamitsi (Siswati), thutlwa (Sotho), thuda (Venda) and ndlulamithi (Zulu) in the south.
Taxonomy and evolution
Mounted Shansitherium skeleton from the Beijing Museum of Natural History
The giraffe belongs to the suborder Ruminantia. Many Ruminantia have been described from the mid-Eocene in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and North America. The ecological conditions during this period may have facilitated their rapid dispersal. The giraffe is one of only two living species of the family Giraffidae, the other being the okapi. The family was once much more extensive, with over 10 fossil genera described. Their closest known relatives are the extinct climacocerids. They, together with the family Antilocapridae (whose only extant species is the pronghorn), belong to the superfamily Giraffoidea. These animals evolved from the extinct family Palaeomerycidae 8 million years ago (mya) in south-central Europe during the Miocene epoch.
While some ancient giraffids, such as Sivatherium, had massive bodies, others, such as Giraffokeryx, Palaeotragus (possible ancestor of the okapi), Samotherium, and Bohlinia, were more elongated. Bohlinia entered China and northern India in response to climate change. From here, the genus Giraffa evolved and, around 7 mya, entered Africa. Further climate changes caused the extinction of the Asian giraffes, while the African ones survived and radiated into several new species. G. camelopardalis arose around 1 mya in eastern Africa during the Pleistocene. Some biologists suggest the modern giraffe descended from G. jumae; others find G. gracilis a more likely candidate. The main driver for the evolution of the giraffes is believed to have been the change from extensive forests to more open habitats, which began 8 mya. Some researchers have hypothesized that this new habitat coupled with a different diet, including Acacia, may have exposed giraffe ancestors to toxins that caused higher mutation rates and a higher rate of evolution.
The giraffe was one of the many species first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. He gave it the binomial name Cervus camelopardalis. Morten Thrane Br