Photo of the Month: Masai Giraffe

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt


Zainabu and Baby by Jamie Pham

Mother Zainabu and baby; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Giraffes are listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to their wide range. However, their populations are growing increasingly dependent on conservation programs as habitat dwindles. An estimated 80,000 giraffes remain in the wild today.

Historically, these animals lived wherever trees grew in the dry-savanna zones of sub-Saharan Africa.  Today, the giraffes’ range has contracted with the expansion of human populations, especially in western Africa. The Masai subspecies now roams the bush and savanna in Kenya and Tanzania.

Giraffes eat leaves, twigs, bark, flowers, and fruit from a wide array of plants (including their favorite–whistling-thorn acacia). They use their 18- to 20-inch tongues to pluck foliage, and their prehensile upper lips are covered with dense hair to protect against thorns.

The Masai giraffe is one of nine subspecies, which are differentiated largely by spot patterns; this subspecies is noted for its spots with irregular or lacy edges. Each individual’s markings are as unique as human fingerprints.

When giraffes are born, their short horns begin as cartilage and later ossify and fuse with the skull. Both sexes bear between two and five of the ever-growing horns. Though not fully understood, “necking” contests, during which “combatants” thump one another with their horns by swinging their necks, appear to be ritualized tests of strength and weight.

The newest addition to the Zoo’s herd arrived on October 9, 2015 and is the first calf born to four-year-old mother Zainabu (pictured). The male calf weighed approximately 130 pounds at birth and was just under six feet tall. Within his first year, he may grow as much as four feet. He can be seen on exhibit with the rest of the herd near the Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains.