1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Giraffe

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GIRAFFE, a corruption of Zarāfah, the Arabic name for the tallest of all mammals, and the typical representative of the family Giraffidae, the distinctive characters of which are given in the article Pecora, where the systematic position of the group is indicated. The classic term “camelopard,” probably introduced when these animals were brought from North Africa to the Roman amphitheatre, has fallen into complete disuse.

The North African or Nubian Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis).

In common with the okapi, giraffes have skin-covered horns on the head, but in these animals, which form the genus Giraffa, these appendages are present in both sexes; and there is often an unpaired one in advance of the pair on the forehead. Among other characteristics of these animals may be noticed the great length of the neck and limbs, the complete absence of lateral toes and the long and tufted tail. The tongue is remarkable for its great length, measuring about 17 in. in the dead animal, and for its great elasticity and power of muscular contraction while living. It is covered with numerous large papillae, and forms, like the trunk of the elephant, an admirable organ for the examination and prehension of food. Giraffes are inhabitants of open country, and owing to their length of neck and long flexible tongues are enabled to browse on tall trees, mimosas being favourites. To drink or graze they are obliged to straddle the fore-legs apart; but they seldom feed on grass and are capable of going long without water. When standing among mimosas they so harmonize with their surroundings that they are difficult of detection. Formerly giraffes were found in large herds, but persecution has reduced their number and led to their extermination from many districts. Although in late Tertiary times widely spread over southern Europe and India, giraffes are now confined to Africa south of the Sahara.

Apart from the distinct Somali giraffe (Giraffa reticulata), characterized by its deep liver-red colour marked with a very coarse network of fine white lines, there are numerous local forms of the ordinary giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). The northern races, such as the Nubian G. c. typica and the Kordofan G. c. antiquorum, are characterized by the large frontal horn of the bulls, the white legs, the network type of coloration and the pale tint. The latter feature is specially developed in the Nigerian G. c. peralta, which is likewise of the northern type. The Baringo G. c. rothschildi also has a large frontal horn and white legs, but the spots in the bulls are very dark and those of the females jagged. In the Kilimanjaro G. c. tippelskirchi the frontal horn is often developed in the bulls, but the legs are frequently spotted to the fetlocks. Farther south the frontal horn tends to disappear more or less completely, as in the Angola G. c. angolensis, the Transvaal G. c. wardi and the Cape G. c. capensis, while the legs are fully spotted and the colour-pattern on the body (especially in the last-named) is more of a blotched type, that is to say, consists of dark blotches on a fawn ground, instead of a network of light lines on a dark ground.

For details, see a paper on the subspecies of Giraffa camelopardalis, by R. Lydekker in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London for 1904. (R. L.*)