Giraffe belong to the order Artiodactyla (even hoofed) and family Giraffidae. The closest relative to the giraffe is the okapi. The scientific name of this animal is Giraffa camelopardalis (Linneaus, 1758). A very large animal with bulls weighing up to 1395,0 kg (3070 pounds) and cows up to 950 kg (2090 pounds). Even in silhouette, this, the tallest of all land animals, is unmistakable with its very long neck, stiff mane, sloping back and long legs. An adult bull stands about 3,1 m (10 feet) tall at the shoulder and up to 5,5 m (18 feet) to the top of the head.
The large spots are also very distinctive, varying in colour from light rufous to very dark brown – almost black in some cases. The spots appear to darken with age. The background colour is a creamy white. The long tail terminates in a tuft of long, bristly hairs.
The neck is up to 2,4 m (feet) long in mature adults. One would think that with such a long neck the giraffe would have a lot more vertebrae when compared to say the short neck of humans. Well as surprising as it may seem they have the exact same name of cervical (neck) vertebrae as we do – seven. Giraffe are browsers and are capable of reaching food high up which is beyond the reach of most other browsers - with the exception of elephant that are mixed feeders (they graze and browse). Giraffe can reach down to a height about level with the top of their legs. This feeding range often gives a peculiar hourglass shape to trees on which they regularly browse.
Giraffe are partial to Acacia tree species on which they readily browse, despite the thorns. Both sexes have two bony processes (horns) on the top of the head and a median process lower down in the middle of the forehead. Males can be distinguished from females by the horns. The horns of females end in a tuft of dark, bristly hairs whereas those of males end in a bald “dome” fringed with dark hairs. The image above right is that of a female. Slit like nostrils at the end of a pointed muzzle can be closed at will. The tongue is long, slender and extensible and is curled around small branches and leaves, which are pulled into the mouth, held between the teeth of the lower jaw and a hard pad of the top jaw, and stripped off with a sideways movement of the head.
The image on the top right shows the bald patches on the top of the horns indicating it to be a bull. Giraffe have good smell, eyesight and hearing. Note in the centre image how the ears are rotated backwards constantly monitoring the environment for potential danger. These animals have beautiful eyes with long lashes. The bony prominence at the base of the horns is clearly seen in profile. In the image on the left it is interesting to see the fork tailed drongo sitting, unperturbed by the proximity of the giraffe. It is in fact keeping close by to catch any insect flushed up by the giraffe. In this same photo one can see a white patch on the giraffes neck. They often scratch themselves on branches and superficial scratches are sometimes made worse by red-billed oxpeckers, which peck at the flesh and eventually leave scars. Giraffe have very thick skin however and this is not generally a serious problem.