The giraffe can be known as one of the gentle giants of the wild. With a height that intimidates all creatures in the savanna, the giraffe is the biggest ruminant and also the tallest mammal in the wild. The animal also has a very distinct skin cover that sets it apart from the rest of the crowd.

Adult giraffes can reach heights of 4m-5.5m and weigh from 550kg -1930kg. Giraffes are in the mammalian order of Artiodactyla, and of the family Giraffidae, consisting of two living genera and two species (Okapia johnstoni and Giraffa camelopardalis) both are native to the African continent.

There are nine recognised subspecies of giraffe, each subspecies has been identified by a particular geographical range, coat pattern and coat coloration. The home ranges of several subspecies overlap, and subspecies hybridization occurs in the wild. The exact pattern is unique to each individual as a fingerprint, and their coat pattern is maintained throughout life once the baby is born.

Giraffes are widespread and successful herbivores of the African savanna. The animals feed on trees and shrubs of a variety of species but are highly selective of what they ingest. The height of the giraffe gives it access to a band of vegetation on which to browse that is out of reach of other animals. Giraffes in fact feed directly from trees and can even reach the tops of some trees with their mouths. Wild giraffe are non-territorial, social animals living in loose, open herds ranging in size from a few animals up to 50 individuals.

Giraffes are held in zoos around the world and are a popular display animal, despite being difficult and expensive to transfer, especially as adults. The species breed well in captivity and the animals generally live for more than ten years. Surplus males can be held successfully in small bachelor groups. Giraffe population is managed in captivity in order to ensure the long-term viability and persistence of giraffe for education, entertainment and conservation purposes, the population is usually not managed for potential reintroduction to the wild.

What does Giraffe diet consist of?

Giraffes are avid eaters when food is plentiful. They prefer to consume what is on the trees including twigs and leaves, but they also consume a variety of fruits that seasonally grow on the trees. What they eat depends on the time of year and where they inhabit.

The elongated neck of giraffes helps them to reach the leaves of tall trees up to 5 meters height, which no other animal can, except for the elephants and with the aid of their trunk; This is a great advantage for giraffes, as they do not compete for food with other animals.

Giraffes don’t have to consume as much foliage as other animals that graze because they get the part of the plants that holds the essential nutrients since they can reach high into the trees. They will only feed on the ground when trees are scarce although the young will feed on the grass due to their size. However, they get plenty of nutrients from the milk of their mothers.

Their favorite food is the acacia, a genus of trees and shrubs that are common in their environment, but also they also consume herbs, fruits, seeds and leaves of more than 100 types of plants, depending on the season. When they are under stress, they eat the bark of the branches.

In Africa, there is a rainy season which allows giraffes to feed on fruits, leaves, twigs, and water but there is also a drought season when they will try to forage for all that they can, mainly acacia trees and bushes. During these rainy months they eat deciduous plants, and during the dry season, the evergreen plants are more consumed. They eat between 34 and 75 kg of vegetation every day.

How Much Does It Cost to Feed a Giraffe for a Year?

Exact giraffe diet formulas vary between zoos, in most cases giraffe are fed a pelleted ration, lucerne hay, browse branches and small amounts of fruit and vegetables. Giraffe as browsers require a high protein level, pelleted rations with protein levels of 15-25 %, and lucerne hay with protein levels of 15-20%. The following plant species can be fed to giraffe as browse: acacia, eucalyptus, willow, elm, coprosma, fig, prunus, myoporum, palm and cassurina. The following fruits and vegetables are suitable for feeding giraffe: apples, pears, melon, carrots, lettuce, silver beet, kale, endive, beans, sweet potato.

The first and most urgent order of business of every zoo is food for the animals. Giraffes being so huge, they tend to consume a lot on the average day. In normal times in a zoo, feeding costs around $1 million per year, an amount that’s usually funded by parking revenues.

Reports from zoos have shown that the cost to feed each giraffe averages approximately $3,000 per year. In addition to the feeding costs, the zoo incurs routine veterinary expenses during the course of the year. This and other figures were made apparent in an experiment carried out by Zoo World.

Zoo World decided to breed one of the giraffes during the year. Zoo World purchased five male and five female giraffes at a cost of $25,000 each, in addition, Zoo World paid $10,000 in veterinary costs and $20,000 for insurance and transportation to get the giraffes to their new exhibit. The giraffes were all approximately five years old at the time of purchase and have an expected total lifespan of 25 years. Zoo World also spent $1,000,000 to create the exhibit, which is expected to last 30 years and have no salvage value.

The cost to feed each giraffe averages approximately $3,000 per year. In addition to the feeding costs, the zoo incurs routine veterinary expenses during the course of the year. Due to the popularity of the Wild Africa exhibit, Zoo World decided to breed one of the giraffes during the year. The costs related to breeding the animal were approximately $10,000, and included costs related to bringing in a giraffe expert for the birth. The baby giraffe joined the tower (herd) after two months; up to this point it was kept in an enclosed barn with access to the exhibit. In addition, the enclosed barn was set up with a video camera, so that zoo visitors and the public can watch the baby giraffe interact with the mother and grow (baby giraffes grow approximately 1.5 inches per day for the first week).

Zoo traffic increased significantly during the two weeks after the birth of the baby giraffe, as visitors enjoyed catching glimpses of the giraffe via the camera and in the exhibit.

Even with a proper diet and veterinary care, one of the giraffes died unexpectedly at the end of the year. Zoo World paid $1,000 for the adult giraffe to be disposed of. In addition, Zoo World sold one of its giraffes to another local zoo, who intends to expand the size of their tower. The other zoo paid $30,000 to acquire the animal, and also paid for an expert veterinary check-up ($3,000) and shipping costs ($2,000).

Ajaero Tony Martins