Giraffes are among the most fascinating animals you will see on a Tanzania safari. They are particularly noticeable due to their long necks and height which can reach up to 5.9 metres high.
Imagine the very moment you were born. Imagine those first gasping breaths after traveling from womb to world.
Now, imagine that instead of a doctor’s hands catching you, instead, you had to fall six feet to the ground, to a great thud onto hard-packed Earth. Ouch.
When the dust settles, you take a look at your body, and everything is long: awkward legs, craning neck, and a tongue soon to reach 20 inches. Only two minutes old and already you weigh 100 pounds and are taller than most humans. It’s in this first hour where you will learn to run, because lions and leopards are licking their chops at your arrival. But you’ve got weapons: this muscle-bound neck, these long legs, this thick skull. They will all help you defend yourself, help you to survive.
You’re a giraffe. Welcome to Planet Earth. Now run.
Giraffes: The skyscrapers of the Serengeti
In the all-star company of lions and elephants, rhinos and zebras, there are few other animals that paint our classic picture of safari like a giraffe nibbling on acacia trees at sunset. Something about their proportions and their unique stamp on the landscape seems to complete the savannah. Giraffes make any safari worthwhile and to witness them in their native habitat is a sight to behold.
But who exactly are these creatures? And how did they become so darn tall, so strange, so unique? Furthermore, how did the giraffe become the very symbol of safari, the national animal of Tanzania? ( source).
For this, we’ve compiled an essential, need-to-know giraffe briefing just for you. Take a few minutes and review these five neck-bending facts, and you’ll come to a far better understanding of one of our favorite animals, the giraffe: the Skyscrapers of the Serengeti.
- Species name: Giraffe. The Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchii) is the largest and most common subspecies (there are nine) that you will see on East African safaris.
- Average lifespan: 25 years.
- Size: 14-19 feet tall (4.3 m-5.7 m); average weight: 2,600lbs (1190kg)
- Range: Central, eastern, and South Africa only. Giraffes only live in savannah ecosystems with open, arid grasslands with tall trees.
- Estimated population: Less than 100,000 worldwide.
Top 5 giraffe facts you probably didn’t know
1. Tallest giraffe ever? Meet Zulu, nearly 20 feet tall
The average size of an adult giraffe you see on safari will reach around 15-16 feet (4.5m-5m) and about 2,000-2,500lbs (900-1100kg), making them the tallest mammal on Earth. But 19.3 feet? Really? Zulu, a giraffe in captivity once measured taller than any other known giraffe, almost 20 feet! (source)
2. Their height isn’t for hard-to-reach food, it’s for sex
Growing up, I was always told the reason giraffes had such incredible reach with their necks was to monopolize on browsing the tops of trees and shrubs. This was called the “high-feeding” theory. This is only partly true. The dominant theory today, the “necks for sex” theory, is tied more to competing for mates, where male giraffes perform a “necking” ritual where they use their muscular neck and 500-pound heads to whip and wail each other, sparring for the attention of a desired female. Male giraffes will also gauge a female’s fertility by sampling her urine, but that’s another story. For a look at giraffes “necking” behavior take a look: (source)
3. Giraffes can outrun Usain Bolt
Though giraffes aren’t known as the speediest animal of the Serengeti (see: the cheetah to watch their 6-foot legs and disproportionate frames run at top speed (up to 35 mph) is a truly impressive site. The name “giraffe” actually derives from the Arabic word “zarafah,” translated as “fast-walker.” Here’s an extraordinary video of a giraffe’s sprinting escape from a lion hunt: (source)
4. Their brains are 2 meters from their heart
Because of the giraffe’s stretched proportions, you can imagine that blood must have to flow long distances to travel from their heart to head and limbs. Good thing giraffes have a huge and powerful heart (25 pounds, or 11kg! By comparison, the average human heart is roughly half a pound, or .23kg). This mega-heart is tasked with sending blood and oxygen over 6 feet (2 m.) to signal the brain. That’s longer than the height of most humans!
5. Giraffes hum when they sleep
Yup. Animals do the strangest things in their sleep, and giraffes are no different. Recently, researchers captured a low-level hum emanating from giraffes as they slept at night. Imagine the sounds that come from whales in the sea. Researchers still don’t know exactly why giraffes make these noises, but they do believe it could be a complex form of communication. Learn more.
One main reason safaris are so memorable is that they sear into your heart singular moments, moments of awe, sunsets where the Serengeti will light up in golden fireworks and you will look out onto open grassland only to see wild animals moving freely about. This is the true essence of safari, the raison d’etre for committing to these trips. To watch a “tower” of giraffes float along the treetops, their heads anchored above acacias, is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and will ever see again, such unusual and beautiful animals in an unusually stunning setting.