Tall and elegant, giraffes roam the savannas and open wooded areas of Africa. There are nine species of giraffe, each with a distinct spotted coat pattern. Females initially give birth at ages 6 and up, while males don't begin breeding until about the age of 7. In the wild, giraffes live about 15 years, while captive giraffes often reach age 25 or older.
Unlike many other species, giraffes mate at any time of year. While mating season varies according to food availability, it usually takes place during the rainy season so the baby arrives during dry weather. Before mating, the female giraffe urinates, which the male then smells. If his nose tells him she's ready to breed, he'll lick her tail and lift his front leg. If she's willing, she places herself in a position for intercourse and the two mate.
Giraffes are pregnant for a period between 14 and 15 months, or 453 to 464 days, one of longest gestation periods in the animal kingdom. Giraffes usually give birth to one offspring at a time, although twins are born occasionally. Because the gestation period is so long, the giraffe won't give birth to another baby for 16 months or more.
Giraffes genders bear the same names as cattle. The female giraffe is a cow, the male is a bull and the baby is a calf. The cow gives birth to the calf standing up. Yes, the baby takes quite a tumble at birth, which helps break the amniotic sac. Calves stand approximately 6 feet tall at birth, with males larger than females. Cows give birth in a calving ground, to which they return to have their babies. It's often the same place they were born in, as mothers in the herd return to the calving ground season after season.
Cows nurse their calves for up to a year. When the calf is about 4 months old, he starts eating leaves. Since giraffes are ruminants, animals with four-part stomachs, eating solids begins the ruminating process, which includes chewing a cud. Males stay around their mothers until reaching the age of 15 months, while females stay with mom until they're a year and a half old. While males join other herds of adolescent males, the females tend to remain in their familial herd.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.