Giraffes don't reach sexual maturity, and start having babies, until they're at least three years of age or sometimes even four. Males might not start mating until much later, because only the stronger males get to mate with an available female, which means the younger male giraffes might not get any chance at all. The baby, or calf, is all mom's responsibility after she's born.
According to the San Diego Zoo, giraffes usually have only one baby at a time. In rare cases, they might have two. In December 2012, twin giraffes were born in a Chinese Zoo in the city of Shijiazhuang. The event was considered such a rarity for the species that it made the news all over the world.
Gestation and Birth
Gestation for giraffes is one of the longest of any mammals, between 425 and 465 days or about 15 months. There's no specific breeding season and dad doesn't stick around to help with the rearing of the baby. When it comes time to give birth, mom will find a private spot and give birth alone. She will remain on her own, with just the calf, for about a week.
What the Baby is Like
Babies weigh anywhere from 104 to 220 lbs. when they are born. Calves are over six feet tall when they are born, which is a good thing, since moms give birth standing up. If the calf was any smaller, the drop to the ground might hurt him. The babies are up and walking within minutes of being born.
Babies spend a long time with mom before they venture out on their own. In fact, weaning can start as late as 12 months of age in some cases and complete independence often takes up to 18 months. Giraffes don't have a new baby until the first one is weaned. That's partly because baby giraffes are easy prey for predators, such as lions, and mom spends her time protecting her calf until she's ready to step out into the world on her own.
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.