The giraffe is an African artiodactyl mammal, the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant. It is traditionally considered to be one species, Giraffa camelopardalis, with nine subspecies. The giraffe has intrigued various cultures, both ancient and modern, for its peculiar appearance, and has often been featured in paintings, books, and cartoons.
The giraffe's chief distinguishing characteristics are its extremely long neck and legs, its horn-like ossicones, and its distinctive coat patterns. Its 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 savannahs and woodlands. Their food source is leaves, fruits and flowers of woody plants, primarily acacia species, which they browse at heights most other herbivores cannot reach.
Why They Matter
Giraffe’s are vital to keeping ecosystems in balance. They eat the browse that others cannot reach, which promotes growth of forage and opens up areas for themselves and other smaller browsers to make use of. Importantly this means that by protecting Africa’s giraffes, other species are protected too. Giraffe’s lives are so intertwined with Acai trees that some seedlings do not germinate until they have passed through the giraffe’s digestive system.
Giraffe is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable to extinction, and has been extirpated from many parts of its former range. The primary causes for giraffe population declines are habitat loss and direct killing for bushmeat markets.
Giraffes are still found in numerous national parks and game reserves but latest estimates indicate that there are approximately 97,500 members of Giraffa in the wild. Giraffes have been extirpated from much of their historic range including Eritrea, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. They may also have disappeared from Angola, Mali, and Nigeria, but have been introduced to Rwanda and Swaziland.
Protected areas such as national parks provide important habitat and anti-poaching protection to giraffe populations. Community-based conservation efforts outside national parks are also effective at protecting giraffes and their habitats.