Pockets of Africa, south of the Sahara Desert



Hello, up there!

Why do so many people look up to giraffes—besides the obvious reason? The long and short of it is that they are a wonderful example of nature’s creativity.

Giraffes are the tallest land animals. A giraffe could look into a second-story window without even having to stand on its tiptoes! A giraffe's 6-foot (1.8-meter) neck weighs about 600 pounds (272 kilograms). The legs of a giraffe are also 6 feet (1.8 meters) long. The back legs look shorter than the front legs, but they are about the same length. A giraffe's heart is 2 feet (0.6 meters) long and weighs about 25 pounds (11 kilograms), and its lungs can hold 12 gallons (55 liters) of air! Its closest relative is the okapi.

A super-sized, two-animal combo

Giraffes have a small hump on their back and have a spotted pattern similar to that of a leopard. For a long time people called the giraffe a “camel-leopard,” because they believed that it was a combination of a camel and a leopard. That's where the giraffe's species name camelopardalis comes from!

Some zoologists think that the giraffe's pattern is for camouflage. Many people have reported mistaking a giraffe for an old dead tree. When the tree walked away, they realized that it was a giraffe.
A giraffe's feet are the size of a dinner plate—12 inches across (30.5 centimeters).
Giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as we do—seven.
A giraffe's tongue is 18 to 20 inches (46 to 50 centimeters) long and blue-black. The color may keep the tongue from getting sunburned.
Giraffes can moo, hiss, roar, and whistle.
The record running speed of a giraffe is 34.7 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour).
The giraffes at the San Diego Zoo enjoy raw onions as a treat.
Male giraffes are preyed upon more often than the smaller females; they generally spend more time alone, so lions can sneak up on them. 
Giraffe females can conceive while still feeding their young infant.
Giraffe calves grow 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) each day during their first week.
A giraffe’s eyes are the size of golf balls.

Our first giraffes
Giraffes have drawn long looks from San Diego Zoo guests since 1938. Lofty and Patches were the Zoo’s first giraffes, arriving from Africa with much fanfare. Loading their crates off the ship and onto the truck for the long journey from New York to San Diego was quite a production, and upon their arrival here 10 days later, the giraffes refused to leave their traveling crate. Finally, someone offered them onions, and these veggies accomplished what nothing else could do. To this day, onions serve as a special treat for our giraffes!

Giraffes at the Zoo
The Zoo currently has a small herd of Masai giraffes that shares the exhibit in Urban Jungle with the much smaller Nubian Soemmering’s gazelles, adding interest for the animals and our guests. The Zoo has giraffe feeding opportunities. When you visit, be sure to check out the giraffe feeding times!

Giraffes at the Safari Park
The Safari Park is home to reticulated and Uganda giraffes; they share their field exhibits with a variety of antelope and rhinos, among other species, just as they might in the wild. Six-foot-tall (1.8 meters) feeding stations are ideal for giraffe calves—they can reach the food, but their antelope and rhino neighbors can’t. One of the Safari Park’s keepers says, “Telling the giraffes apart is like cloud watching. The longer you look at them, the more you’ll notice unique shapes in their spot pattern. And that’s how we tell them apart.”

As the Safari Park has a large herd of Uganda giraffes (currently 16!), keepers photograph unusual characteristics of each one and keep the photos in a book in their keeper truck for easy reference. For example, Yanahmah has horns that bend inward—none of the others have horns that bend that way; Shani has a heart-shaped spot on her neck; Juma has a down-pointing arrow on his right rump; Mypooki has a “butterfly” on her hindquarter.

Several years ago, it was suggested that, in their native ranges, many giraffe subspecies had begun to hybridize due to shrinking habitat—including the Uganda and reticulated subspecies, the two types we have at the Safari Park. Although some zoos chose to allow the two subspecies to crossbreed, we decided to keep ours separate. Now, the International Giraffe Group recommends not mixing the two subspecies; as Uganda giraffe populations dwindle, it’s important to preserve their genetic diversity in zoos.

In many African countries, giraffe populations are slowly decreasing because of habitat loss and the overgrazing of resources by livestock. As a result, the future of giraffes is dependent on the quality of the habitat that remains. Their numbers have decreased in the past century, and two giraffe subspecies, the West African or Nigerian giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis peralta and the Uganda or Rothschild’s giraffe G.c. rothschildi are endangered. While it has historically lived in western Kenya, Uganda, and southern Sudan, the Uganda giraffe has been almost totally eliminated from most of its former range and now survives in only a few small, isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda. The Nigerian giraffe is found in just one area of Nigeria, and it is considered the rarest of the giraffes.

The population of reticulated giraffes G.c. reticulata has dropped by an alarming 80 percent in just 10 years, most likely due to poaching. They are no match for humans with guns; giraffes are shot or snared for their meat, hide, bone marrow, and tail hair. The rest of the giraffe species have not become endangered for a number of reasons. Fortunately, Kenya is starting a giraffe conservation program for the three subspecies found there: reticulated, Uganda, and Masai giraffes G.c. tippelskirchi.

San Diego Zoo Global supports a community conservation effort in northern Kenya that is finding ways for people and wildlife to live together. At the San Diego Zoo, we have a giraffe-feeding patio where high-fiber biscuits can be purchased and fed to the giraffes. The money raised through the sale of the giraffe biscuits funds the community conservation initiatives we support in Africa.

You can help us bring giraffes back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.