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A cross between a camel and a leopard? Annually World Giraffe Day is celebrated on 21 June

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Long ago, people though a giraffe was a cross between a camel, because of the way it walked, and a leopard, because of its markings. This led to the word camelopardalis. The Arabs called it Zarafa and the Ethiopians Zurafa. Eventually, taxonomists named it Giraffe Camelopardalis.

Giraffe were thought to be a common plains game, an iconic animal in Africa that was abundant throughout its range. Today, Giraffes are considered vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (estimated population +-100 000 individuals) with some subspecies listed as endangered or critically endangered.

World Giraffe Day is celebrated on 21 June each year in an attempt to spread awareness for these incredible and iconic animals.

Giraffes were previously thought to to be one species with nine subspecies. Today, thanks to further DNA testing, we know there are a total of four species of giraffe consisting of 5 subspecies:

1. Masai Giraffe (Tanzania & central/southern Kenya)

2. Reticulated Giraffe (southern Somalia, Ethiopia & northern Kenya

3. Northern Giraffe:

- Nubian Giraffe (western Kenya and Ethiopia, northern Uganda and South Sudan)

- Kordofan Giraffe (western South Sudan, northern DRC, northern Cameroon & southern Chad)

- West African Giraffe (found in Western Niger)

4. Southern Giraffe

- Angolan Giraffe (Namibia/western Botswana)

- South African Giraffe (South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe)

In the majority of Southern Africa you will find the South African Giraffe; they are doing very well, with their numbers on the rise that provides tourists with many great photographic opportunities on safari drives.

Look for giraffes where there are food trees from them to browse. They are visible from afar since they are the tallest mammals and the largest ruminants. Giraffes have extremely long tongues (45 cm) and can reach foliage that is beyond the reach of other browsers. Despite its great length, the giraffe's neck has only seven vertebrae - just like all other mammals.

A few additional interesting facts about Giraffe Camelopardalis:

  • Like human fingerprints, no two individual giraffes have exactly the same pattern of spots;

  • Giraffes only need about 5 - 30 minutes of sleeping a 24 hour period, normally taken in short naps of a few minutes at a time;

  • Giraffes spend most of their lives standing up; they even sleep and give birth standing up;

  • Collective noun: a corps, herd, tower, stretch, journey, totter or group of giraffes;

  • Gestation: 457 days (15.2 months);

  • Life expectancy: approximately 28 years;

  • Shoulder height: male 3m, female 2.73m;

  • Mass: male 1,192kg, female 828kg;

  • Social structure: loose groups, with males often solitary;

  • If nutrients are lacking in their daily diets, giraffes will eat bone to supplement phosphorous and calcium in their bodies.