The Elegant Record Breaker | Worldwide Experience

Dave McNab, who has firsthand experience after working as a Field Guide in South Africa, elaborates on why in his eyes, the Giraffe is the most elegant and sophisticated of them all.

“For me, the most elegant and sophisticated of all the beasts must be the Giraffe! At least they are seemingly elegant with the way they strut around with an element of belonging more accustomed to a Madrid catwalk rather than the African bush. It is difficult to put a finger on why the extravagant connotations we put on them are so. Is it from the chief distinguishing characteristics of its extremely long neck and legs? Maybe, it also has something to do with their large all-seeing eyes lined with eyelashes that would be the envy of any supermodel. Or, potentially it is the sheer size of these towering giants leering over the bush line in a pretentious fashion at all it surveys leading to the alluring affectionate connection we have. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to spend time observing and appreciating them in their natural habitat, it’s surely a combination of all these aspects together. One thing is for sure, the more you learn about these gentle giants, the more affinity is created for them.

Not only are the facts and figures impressive for Giraffes but they are the standout record-breakers of the animal kingdom in a lot of categories. In fact, there is nothing ordinary about them, only the extra-ordinary will do for these lanky lovable things and they should be celebrated for what they are. The unfortunate fact is that the many different sub-species of Giraffe, of which, there is arguably 9 varieties, are all on the decline and have recently (2019) been listed on the Endangered species list with some sub-species being listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The numbers have plummeted by a staggering 40% in the last three decades, and less than 100,000 remain which really is alarmingly low. These numbers have caught a lot of people by surprise recently as there has been not much (if any) focus on the species compared to others. Now more than ever it is of utmost importance for us to celebrate these unconventional, quirky, lovable record-breaking giants!

I have listed here 6 of my favourite facts and figures in which giraffes top the records of the animal kingdom and some fun facts that make these animals stand even further – head and shoulders above the rest, you might say:

Towering tallest – Giraffes are the tallest mammals on Earth. Their legs alone are taller than most humans – about 6 feet tall or about 2 metres. The full size from toe to tip of the Ossicle (horns) can reach a gargantuan 15 – 18 feet or up 6 metres tall. The benefit of this is, of course, reaching all those tasty leaves no one else can.

Hefty hearts – To pump blood all the way up its long neck, the giraffe needs a very strong heart. In fact, its heart weighs 26 lb or 12 kg, making it the biggest heart in the animal kingdom! Also, it has special blood vessels in its head to prevent it from fainting when it lifts its head suddenly!

Really big ruminants – Being a ruminant is normally something we associate with smaller animals like impalas, kudu and the likes of sheep. These are animals that generally have 4 chambers in their stomach and digest their food by means of regurgitating and chewing it up several times. This gives them a good chance of getting as much goodness from their food as possible and you can see the evidence of this in the dung. If you compare the little pellets that giraffes produce to what the other giants of the animal kingdom such as elephants and rhinos produce you can really see a vast difference, the huge heaps of partly undigested vegetation are the furthest thing away from the tiny one-centimetre rabbit-like plops that you see from giraffes.

Surprising sprinters – OK, so they are obviously not the fastest sprinters out there, They are not in the same category as cheetahs and lions etc. but, when compared to the others in their size and weight category they are leaps and bounds ahead. Reaching speeds of up to 60 km/h they do not hang about! With elephants coming in at a measly 40 km/h and a rhino at a more respectable 50 km/h. It’s not too surprising if you think about these 2-metre-long legs striding away from an over-interested pride of Lions.

Big Babies – After a gestation period of around 15 months, baby giraffes, called calves, fall from quite a height as the mother gives birth standing up. The fall can be as far as 5 feet and hit the ground with a bit of a bump probably similar to a new-born human baby getting a little smack on the bum! Lucky then the newborn is rather large, weighing in at a whopping 150 lbs and already standing at 6 feet tall (1.8 m).

Tremendous tongue – This one again is not necessarily winning the gold medal as elephants actually take the biscuit with this one but it's definitely worth a mention. Even though a typical giraffe’s neck can stretch as long as 6 feet, the giraffe's tongue measures 18 – 20 inches long. Why does a giraffe need such a long tongue? If you liked to eat Acacia tree leaves as they do, then you would understand. The acacia tree’s tasty leaves are protected by very sharp thorns. Their long tongue allows them to reach the highest, tastiest leaves while avoiding the biggest of thorns. Its tongue also features a thick, tough layer that protects it from being cut by the thorns. If it does get a cut, its extra-thick saliva has antiseptic properties that help it to heal quickly.”

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by David McNab