The silent operator
The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), despite its long, complex Latin name, is one of the best-loved and most easily recognised animals of the African Savannah. The earliest origin of the name comes from the Arabic, Zaraffa, meaning 'fast-walker', while the suffix refers to its camel-like and spotted appearance.
You can't miss these lanky creatures ambling through the bush, or browsing silently on the tips of acacia trees, they are after all the tallest land mammals in the world and still abundant in the wild.
There are nine subspecies of giraffe, which are distinguished mainly by their coat patterns - the Nubian, reticulated, Angolan, Kordofan, Masai, Rothschild's, Nigerian, Thornicroft and South African giraffes.
Few predators can aspire to taking down a fully grown giraffe as they can kick in quite a few directions with alarming speed and ferocity, although prides of lions do try their luck - and succeed on occasion. Leopards, hyenas and wild dogs have been known to kill giraffe calves and crocodiles prey on them at waterholes, given the opportunity.
Their main threat from mankind is due to habitat destruction, and they are not often targeted by trophy hunters as they don't pose much of a challenge. In the past, tribesmen used giraffe as a source of meat. Sandals, shield and drums were created from their skins, their tendons were used to make strings for musical instruments and their tail hairs served as flyswatters, bracelets, necklaces and thread. Sudanese people make a drink out of the liver and marrow of giraffes called Umm Nyolokh.
Although often seen together, giraffes have very little social structure and a group of giraffes is defined as one or more animals within a kilometre of each other and moving in the same direction. The structure of a group can change every hour or so. Although they are not territorial, they do tend to have preferred ranges.
Communication between members of a 'group' is restricted to very occasional coughs, grunts and bellows. They are also known to snore and hiss, but it is thought that infrasound is their main means of communication over distances.
The length of the giraffe's neck comes from natural selection over the ages, whereby the vertebrae of the neck have elongated to facilitate browsing. They have the same number of vertebrae as other mammals, although ball and socket joints in the neck ensure greater mobility for fighting and browsing.
Although they are not known as the most glamorous or sought-after sightings on an African Safari, there is something about giraffes that just make them nice to have around.