Giraffes at Denver Zoo trying to make babies - Male giraffe mounting a female
The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant. Its binomial name refers to its camel-like face and the patches of color on its fur, which somewhat resemble a leopard's spots. Its chief distinguishing characteristics are its extremely long neck and legs, its horn-like ossicones and its distinctive markings. It stands 5--6 m (16--20 ft) tall and has an average weight of 1,600 kg (3,500 lb) for males and 830 kg (1,800 lb) for females. It is classified under the family Giraffidae, along with its closest extant relative, the okapi. There are nine subspecies, which 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 can browse at heights that most other herbivores cannot reach. Giraffes are preyed on by lions, and 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, who 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 (IUCN) 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.
Social life and breeding habits
While giraffes are usually found in groups, the composition of these groups tends to be open and ever-changing. They have few strong social bonds, and aggregations usually change members every few hours. For research purposes, a "group" has been defined as "a collection of individuals that are less than a kilometre apart and moving in the same general direction." The number of giraffes in a group can range up to 32 individuals. The most stable giraffe groups are those made of mothers and their young, which can last weeks or months. Social cohesion in these groups is maintained by the bonds formed between calves.:330 Mixed-sex groups made of adult females and young males are also known to occur. Subadult males are particularly social and will engage in playfights. However, as they get older males become more solitary. Giraffes are not territorial, but they have home ranges. Male giraffes occasionally wander far from areas that they normally frequent.:329
Reproduction is broadly polygamous: a few older males mate with the fertile females. Male giraffes assess female fertility by tasting the female's urine to detect estrus, in a multi-step process known as the Flehmen response. Males prefer young adult females over juveniles and older adults. Once an estrous female is detected, the male will attempt to court her. During courtship, dominant males will keep subordinate ones at bay. During copulation, the male stands on its hind legs with its head held up and its front legs resting on the female's sides.
Although generally quiet and non-vocal, giraffes have been heard to communicate using various sounds. During courtship, males emit loud coughs. Females call their young by bellowing. Calves will emit snorts, bleats, mooing and mewing sounds. Giraffes also snore, hiss, moan and make flute-like sounds, and they communicate over long distances using infrasound. .
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