World Giraffe Day

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Today, June 21st, is World Giraffe Day! This day was initiated to raise awareness for giraffes by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, an international science-based conservation organization that works to protect giraffes and habitats through a variety of projects. And unfortunately, these animals need plenty of help, as there are roughly 117,000 giraffes left in the wild. There are nine different subspecies and their ICUN status ranges from vulnerable to critically endangered.

Found mostly in savannahs and woodlands in Sub-Saharan Africa, these tall, gentle giants tower over every other animal in the world and often stand 14-19 feet tall while weighing 1,750-2,800 pounds. Their height allows these mammals to keep an eye out for predators, run 35 miles an hour for short distances (and comfortably walk 10 miles an hour for longer distances), and browse on leaves and buds that not many other animals can reach. After a 15 month pregnancy, female giraffes do give birth standing up, which means their newborns drop 5-6 feet to the ground when born. But that drop doesn’t usually hurt the babies and newborn giraffes are often able to walk on their own within an hour of being born, as giraffes are prey animals and need to be able to keep moving away from possible predators.

In addition to their height, a giraffe’s tongue helps these herbivores reach the leaves and buds they rely on. Their tongues are roughly 21 inches long and are a blue-black color, an adaption that is thought to protect their tongues from getting sunburnt. As herbivores, giraffes can eat 75 pounds of leaves in a day. But because their tongues are narrow and long, they can only eat a few leaves at a time. Between that and the four compartments in their stomachs, giraffes are eating or regurgitating their food pretty consistently throughout the day.

In captivity, giraffes have been known to eat things like fruit, vegetables, and even different crackers. But for the most part, their diet is primarily leaves, particularly in the wild. Acacia leaves are often a favorite for giraffes and these leaves contain large amounts of water, which can help these mammals go a long period of time without drinking water. Because of their long necks, drinking water is a particularly dangerous endeavor, as the position they need to take makes them vulnerable to attacks from predators.

While their height and long necks can make drinking from a watering hole difficult, giraffes have evolved over time to develop some pretty unique features. Some scientists theorize that under their brown patches, giraffes have clusters of blood vessels and sweat glands that help them release heat and keep cool on the hot savannah. Plus, their specific patterns are actually unique to each individual giraffe, like fingerprints for humans. Additionally, they have high blood pressure to help get their blood circulating from their heart to their brain and other body parts. While its neck is significantly longer than any other mammal, a giraffe actually has the same number of cervical vertebrae as humans (seven in total). But unlike humans, their cervical vertebrae are joined together with ball and socket joints that offer a 360-degree range of motion.

With nine different subspecies found in different parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, giraffes are incredible mammals facing numerous threats. Like many vulnerable, threatened, or endangered species, these animals face problems like habitat loss, climate change, negative human interactions (like civil unrest and hunting), and illegal poaching. Wildlife conservation work, political protections, and the fight against climate change/poaching can all directly and indirectly help the many wild giraffe populations on the African continent.

Have you seen a giraffe in real life before? Let me know in the comments!

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