The ability to reach the leaves at the very top of trees seems like enough of a reason to grow a long neck, but a giraffe’s neck is about more than just food.
Male giraffes use their necks as weapons and as signs of their virility. There’s nothing cute about ‘necking’ between male giraffes: they lock them together like arm wrestlers or swing their heads like medieval maces, with a terrifying force that can topple or kill their opponents with a single blow (a giraffe’s skull weighs more than a full-size boxer’s punch bag and sports up to five skin-covered horns called ossicones).
Unlike the female’s, the male giraffe’s neck and skull continue to grow thicker throughout their life. The bigger the neck, the more victories, and the more willing females that come flocking. To counterbalance the weight of these heavy-duty sex toys, the giraffes’ neck has evolved with one more vertebra than other mammals, at the point where the neck joins the chest.
A giraffe has a black tongue twenty-seven inches long and no vocal cords. A giraffe has nothing to say. He just goes on giraffing.
Giraffes give birth standing up; the babies fall to the ground. A baby giraffe is about six feet tall at birth.
The other key weapon in a male giraffe’s romantic armoury is his odour: downwind you can smell one from over 800 feet away.
Early explorers compared their scent to ‘a hive of heather honey in September’, but the key chemical constituent is indole, the nitrogen compound that gives our faeces their characteristic smell.
As well as driving females wild, giraffe-pong has a practical function, acting as an inbuilt parasite repellent and killing many of the microbes and fungal organisms that graze on a giraffe’s skin. They even secrete the active ingredient in creosote to kill bloodsucking ticks.
As far as giraffes are concerned, smelling bad means you are clean and healthy.
Giraffe’s tongues are 24 inches long and bluey-black to help avoid sunburn.
In 1827 the Emperor of Austria, the King of England and the King of France all received giraffes from Muhammad Ali Pasha who was trying to maintain allies whilst he waged war on the Greeks.
The French giraffe, a female, was a great success and lived 16 years longer than her Austrian and English friends, much to the delight of the French. Her journey to France was incredible. She sailed on the Nile from Khartoum to Cairo with a hole cut for her head in the upper deck; she was kept company by cows and antelopes for milk, a cowhand, and a Sudanese man to take care of her. She had verses of the Koran tied around her neck to protect her from evil.
She then sailed across the Mediterranean and spent the winter in Marseilles where she was exercised up and down the street preceded by mounted gendarmes. Then, having got her strength up, she then walked to Paris with her cows (to provide milk), an antelope, a cowhand, a Sudanese assistant, and a cart full of seeds and leaves, all the while wrapped up in a specially made suit to keep her warm.Crowds came out of fields, vineyards and villages to gawp at her as she ambled past. She arrived in Paris and was presented to the King; thousands turned into the streets to greet her. An eighth of the population of Paris travelled to see her over the next few months (including a young Flaubert). Women wore their hair piled high 'a la giraffe', Balzac wrote a story about her, cloth was printed with giraffe spots and ceramics were painted with her image.
God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things.
Most of a giraffe’s life is spent either eating or chewing the cud. Their favourite meal is the acacia tree, which is so thorny that most other animals leave it alone. The top joint of their neck allows them to raise their heads vertically in line with the neck and browse for the young thorn-less leaves at the very top. Incredibly, the trees have learned to fight back by releasing a chemical that turns their leaves bitter. They also release a wind-borne ‘warning burst’ to alert surrounding trees to do the same. Giraffes, in turn, always try to approach acacias upwind.
Giraffes need less water than camels, and as acacia leaves are 70% water, they rarely need to drink. This is good news, because their awkward splayed pose at a waterhole leaves them vulnerable to lions and crocodiles. The only time they kneel is to sleep, laying their head on the ground for 10 minutes each day and, even then, keeping half their brain awake.
Pliny the Elder thought giraffes were a cross between leopards and camels. However, he also believed that leopards were hybrid creatures - sired on a lioness by a pard. A ‘pard’ appears to be a sort of composite panther-type beast. The Greek belief, which Pliny adhered to, was that if one animal mated with another, the offspring would be a mixture of both - hence the minotaur, gryphons, centaurs and fauns. If a camel is mated with a leo-pard, then the offspring would appear to be inevitably a camel-leo-pard.
Giraffes do have one thing in common with camels: they walk by moving the legs on each side as pairs - both right legs, then both left legs (a ‘pacing’ gait) - unlike horses and most other quadrupeds.
Giraffes’ tails are an unofficial currency in Sudan and Uganda.
Giraffes can reach top speeds of 33mph.
Giraffes have elastic blood vessels lined with valves to counteract a rush of blood when the head is raised, lowered or swung quickly.
A giraffe's heart weighs 25lb.
Camels, cats and giraffes are the only animals that walk by moving front and hind legs on one side together alternately.