Giraffes are beautiful creatures found on the plains of Africa. While they are usually peaceful animals, they will defend themselves from predators, such as leopards, lions and hyenas, who try to attack their young. Giraffes use many different methods to protect their young from these potentially fatal attacks.
Giraffes most commonly protect their young by guarding them very closely. During the first few weeks of its life, a baby giraffe--known as a calf--is extremely vulnerable; it cannot defend itself against potential predators at all. Therefore, mother giraffes keep their calves very close to them at all times. If a mother giraffe needs to leave her calf for any reason, such as going to find food, she will leave it in a small nursery group of other calves.
If a giraffe feels threatened, it will also protect itself and its young by kicking. Giraffes deliver kicks with all four legs, and have hooves the size of dinner plates. A well-placed kick from an adult giraffe can inflict serious damage, even killing large animals like lions. In May 2010, a woman in South Africa was kicked to death by a giraffe while walking her dogs; one of the dogs ran toward the giraffe and, when the woman went to retrieve it, the giraffe charged and kicked her in the neck. A calf was walking nearby when the woman approached the animal, so it is believed that the adult giraffe attacked in order to protect it.
Giraffes also protect themselves and their calves by being observant. Male giraffes stand about 18 feet tall, and females about 16 feet. This height works to the giraffes' advantage, allowing them to see long distances. Giraffes keep watch for attackers most of the day. They average only 30 minutes of sleep a day, broken into about six five-minute naps. Giraffes only get about 20 minutes of deep sleep every 24 hours. The rest of the time is spent lightly dozing.
After it becomes a few weeks old, a calf leaves its mother and is placed into something called a creche. This is a group of other young giraffes, and they stay together in order to ensure all the young are constantly protected. Creches are observed by adult members of the herd. Often female members will take turns keeping an eye on the calves.
The most serious threat to giraffes are humans. Though it is illegal to hunt giraffes, they are still often killed for their skins, meat and tails. Other forms of human involvement also threaten the lives of giraffes; their natural habitat is being affected more and more by human activity. Habitat loss has caused giraffe extinction in a number of African countries, but conservation efforts are in place to prevent the extinction of the entire species.
giraffe image by christine dedman from Fotolia.com