Giraffes are the tallest land animal in existence. Males reach heights of 5.5 meters (18 ft) and weigh up to 1900kg. At birth, calves are about 1.8 meters (6ft) tall and weigh approximately 50-55kg. Giraffes have extremely long necks which they use to reach browse high in the trees. Surprisingly, they have only seven vertebrae in their neck, the same as humans, mice and most other mammals. However, the vertebrae in a giraffe’s neck are far more elongated.
Giraffes are native to Africa and are reasonably widespread. They are found in open woodlands and savannah habitats.
A very long neck allows giraffes to reach all the leaves that the smaller browsing animals cannot. In fact, the only competition giraffes have for food is the elephant which can use its trunk to reach branches, or simply push the tree over! Giraffes are selective browsers feeding mainly from varieties of Acacia and Combretum plant species. From time to time, they are seen eating vines, herbs or even chewing on bones for extra minerals. They spend a whopping 16-20 hours-per-day browsing. Giraffes have a prehensile tongue which they use like fingers by curling it around the leaves to pluck them easily from the branch. Their tongue is very long– growing up to 40cm in length!
Giraffes are quiet animals and generally rely on sight as their primary sense. However, they do possess vocal chords which allow them to make a variety of sounds. Adults bellow, grunt and make a whistling noise, while calves bleat and moo. They are also able to communicate with infra-sound - a low frequency sound which is undetectable to humans.
Forrest is a lucky boy, being the only male in our herd of four giraffe.
Forrest came to Australia Zoo in May 2009, all the way from Auckland Zoo in New Zealand and in just a year and a half he has grown a whole meter!
Although Forrest looks super tall, he still isn't quite fully grown as he could get up to 6 meters tall and weigh as much as 1900kg.
Forrest is a lovely boy and is starting to mellow as he gets older. When he was a little younger he would get a bit stroppy if you didn't get his breakfast to him fast enough but he is learning a bit of patience now and is USUALLY happy to wait. When he does get his breakfast of pellets delivered to him, he is great at taking big mouthfuls then dropping most of it over his keepers heads. He gets us every time!
Forrest is very gentle with his girlfriends - especially his favourite girl Penny and hopefully that means he'll be a good dad when we eventually have little baby giraffes.
Penny was the first giraffe ever to call Australia Zoo her home, she is also the first ever giraffe to live in Queensland - as if she needed anything else to make her special...
Penny was born at Perth Zoo and came here to us in May 2009, joined shortly after by our male Forrest.
Penny is a cheeky character, if any of our giraffes are up to mischief - you can almost guarantee it will be Penny. Every morning we carry out training sessions with our giraffe, and Penny loves to go first. If one of the other giraffe sneak in before her thereby making Penny wait, she knocks on the door with her front foot demanding attention - such a little princess! In the paddock she is always on the lookout for a free feed from the back of our service vehicle and she puts on her cutest face in her attempts to win her keepers over. We have to be strong to resist her charms!
Next time you're visiting our Africa exhibit, keep your eye out for Penny - she has a butterfly shaped marking on her chest - and you may just get to see her up to some of her antics.
Rosie arrived at Australia Zoo in November 2009, and she came from Monarto Zoo in South Australia.
Rosie is a country girl at heart, she had received very little hands on contact with people prior to coming to us so she therefore took a while to start to trust us and feel comfortable with people in close proximity to her. However this didn't take very much time at all and now, Rosie is our most confident animal. She is a wonderful animal to do training with as she takes everything in her stride. In fact, if she has her head in a bucket of food, a whole circus could go past her and she wouldn't come up for air!
Rosie LOVES her food so much that she almost inhales it! That is the one true road to Rosies heart - through her stomach.
Like our other females, Rosie is approaching the age where she will hopefully start to breed. This is very exciting for us and we are all crossing our fingers and toes that we will have little giraffe calves running around soon.
Like Rosie, Sally also came to us from Monarto Zoo but a lot later than the other giraffe, having only arrived in early 2011.
Sally is a really shy little girl, it took a very long time for us to gain her trust and even now she can get a little worried around people she doesn't know.
However, all of our keepers have been won over by Sally as she is the sweetest natured animal. While all of the other giraffe push forward whenever there is food on the offer, Sally is happy just to hang back and wait her turn. Maybe the other giraffe should take some lessons from her good manners!
Sally's training is progressing well although due to her shy nature we do have to take things a little slower with her.
Keep your eye out for Sally next time you're at the zoo - she is the 'blondie' of the group, having very pale orange spots.