Giraffes are the giants of the animal world, reaching heights of up to 20 feet. The neck alone can be as long as 6 feet. Giraffes are native to Africa, living especially in the savanna areas. Because young giraffes have lots of predators, including the big African cats, they require their mom's protection until they become old enough to protect themselves. This need for protection determines in part the relationship moms and young giraffes have.
The Life of the Giraffe
According to University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web, female giraffes will not breed until they are at least 4 or 5 years old, while males might not breed until they are around 7 years of age. Young giraffes are vulnerable to predators, so females rely on each other to keep their babies safe.
There's no specific breeding season for giraffes, so births occur at different times throughout the year. Mom is pregnant for up to 465 days before the baby -- usually one, although twins are possible -- comes around. Once it is time for the delivery, Mom will step away from the herd so she can give birth alone.
At the time of birth, babies can be as tall as 6.6 feet. That's a good thing, since Mom gives birth standing up -- and it would be a long way to the ground if the babies were much smaller. Babies will be up and walking within minutes, and they'll begin to suckle right away. The mother and baby will remain isolated for about a week before they join a larger group. During that first week, babies will remain rather quiet and hidden, according to Animal Diversity Web. Mom will step away for short periods of time during the first few weeks, but will return at night to protect and nurse the baby.
What Happens Next
Although giraffes are social animals, they don't form lasting relationships with partners or family members. That means the young ones will only stay with Mom -- Dad doesn't stick around -- as long as necessary to learn surviving skills. Weaning can take as long as 16 months, with females staying with their mothers longer than males. Once the young become part of a group, all females become "nannies," watching over them when moms step away to feed or drink.
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