Words Nina van Schalkwyk
They are an icon of the African savanna. There’s a lot more to giraffes than you know. That is why here at TNN, we want to share a few fun facts about the giraffe in honour of World Giraffe Day on 21 June.
There’s no doubt that the giraffe is the tallest land mammal in the world. Now imagine the power needed to push blood from its heart to its head up that long neck. Which is why it has exceptionally high blood pressure – 280/180mm Hg to be precise, which is double that of humans. Their hearts beat twice as fast, too, and need to be robust enough to withstand the high pressure. Then there are their tongues, which are about 50cm long. Their upper lips are incredibly flexible, and they have no front teeth in their upper jaws. Together, it is that much easier for them to pluck off the tasty leaves from between spiky thorns on trees.
Giraffe may all look a little similar, but there are four distinct species, the northern, southern, reticulated and Masai giraffe. They differ as much from each other as polar and brown bears do, and cannot interbreed. Then there is a total of nine subspecies of giraffe. A close look at their coat patterns reveals which is which. The giraffe species found in Namibia is the southern giraffe, which has two subspecies, namely the South African and Angolan giraffe. Ironically, there aren’t any Angolan giraffes in Angola anymore, according to the Giraffe Conservation Fund (GCF).
Most people do not realise how severe giraffe depopulation is. The International Union of Conservation of Nature classified them as ‘vulnerable’, and their overall population has decreased by 40% over the last three decades. In fact, there are fewer giraffes in Africa than elephants! Of the four species of giraffe, only one, the southern giraffe (found in Namibia) has substantial numbers. The biggest reason for the decline in giraffe is the growth in human populations, which put increased pressure on their habitats.
If you can’t imagine an Africa without giraffe, neither can we. Tourism can be a powerful tool. Share the love for these weird-looking animals by supporting organisations and associations that work towards their conservation.
There is currently only one non-government organisation in the world that concentrates on the conservation and management of giraffe in Africa: the Giraffe Conservation Fund (GCF). The GCF documentary “Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants”, follows a GCF team as they try to relocate a group of giraffes and was nominated for an Emmy Award. The GCF main office is located in Namibia.