Known for their very long necks and uniquely patterned bodies, giraffes are a very popular animal in zoos and on wildlife safaris. But how long do giraffes live on average, and what’s it like to be a giraffe?
In this article, we will cover what the average giraffe’s life cycle is like, as well as some of the oldest living giraffes held in captivity. There could be a record-breaking giraffe living at your local zoo! Let’s learn more about these unique creatures now.
How Long Do Giraffes Live?
Giraffes live at least 25 years, some living closer to 30 in captivity. There’s no real way to tell or track how long giraffes live in the wild. It is likely they live fewer years, but a fully grown giraffe may live longer than we think!
The same cannot be said for young or newborn giraffes. In the wild, nearly 60% of young giraffes perish at the hands of predators, usually lions or crocodiles. Most young giraffes will survive once they reach their second year of age, but their time before this is fraught with predation.
Adult giraffes are much more capable of fending off predators with their very powerful kicks. However, most giraffe species are considered endangered, and many subspecies are extinct in certain areas of Africa.
This is why conservation in zoos is very important. Many giraffes live long lives in captivity, and many zoos have healthy breeding programs in order to keep the species alive. Later in this article, we’ll discuss some of the giraffes that have lived the longest, most of them mother giraffes!
Regardless, giraffes don’t appear to have the same extreme lifespans of other large megafauana from Africa such as elephants. The world’s oldest elephant reached 89 years old. By comparison, the world’s oldest (known) giraffe died on December 6, 2021 at the age of 31. The giraffe, named Mutangi, was a great-grandma and lived to the age of 31.
For now, let’s talk more about the average giraffe’s life cycle.
The Average Giraffe Life Cycle
From birth to death, the giraffe leads a very interesting life. Their lives are almost as unique as their coats, as the pattern of their spots is unique to every single giraffe, just like our own fingerprints. Let’s learn about their life now.
Newborn, or Calf
Newborn giraffes are impressive in that they are capable of walking within an hour of being born. They are also sturdy and capable young creatures, as they have to survive a large drop when they are born. Female giraffes can only give birth standing up, and they have a 15-month gestation period.
Many newborn giraffes average about six feet in height from the moment they are born. This height will only increase over the next year, almost doubling after 12 months on their mother’s milk. However, this is the time of life that is most dangerous for a giraffe to be in.
Young giraffes remain in their herd until they are at least 15 to 18 months of age. Many male giraffes leave their herd and join all-male herds, but some female giraffes will remain in the herd that they were born in.
If a giraffe can survive its first year or two, its survival rate goes up exponentially. This is because a giraffe will reach its full height during this time. Their necks alone average 6 feet tall, which is how tall the giraffe was when it was born!
Adult giraffes reach sexual maturity between 4 to 7 years of age. By this point in their life, giraffes are capable herbivores, scouring the land for leaves in their herd. Giraffes have been known to come and go from their herds as they please, though a herd environment offers the most protection to them.
One of the reasons that giraffes may be more endangered than other animals is their breeding cycles. Giraffes will only give birth to one baby at a time, and the gestation period is very long. However, these animals may or may not ever give birth, as lone giraffes have been recorded in the wild just as often as herds.
Wild adult giraffes use their height to their advantage. Given how tall they are, most giraffes can see predators coming from a significant distance away. This helps them stay safe and allows them to warn one another of enemies. Giraffes are usually very quiet mammals, however.
Factors that Affect a Giraffe’s Lifespan
There are multiple factors that can contribute to the downfall of these towering creatures. In the wild, natural predators play a part in the demise of giraffes. The top predators of giraffes include lions, crocodiles, and humans. When giraffes group together, their coats act as natural camouflage. However, giraffes that get separated from the herd are prime targets for predators. Humans are guilty of causing habitat loss to giraffes, as well as poaching them for their meat.
One shocking cause of death for giraffes (no pun intended) is being struck by lightning. While their long necks are an asset for feeding, they can also attract lightning strikes that occur on wide-open savannahs during severe weather events.
Ecological problems like disease or draught can also play a part in the lifespan of giraffes in the wild.
Some of the Oldest Giraffes Ever Recorded
Curious about how long some giraffes live in captivity? Here is a list of some of the oldest giraffes ever recorded:
- Mutangi, a giraffe from the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in New South Wales passed away weeks after her 31st birthday. She was the first giraffe born at this particular zoo in the year 1990, and she herself was a great grandmother. The zoo states that she had roughly 60 descendants, all born at the zoo, after a life well-lived in captivity.
- Jimmie lived to be almost 27 years of age before being euthanized at the Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun, Maryland. He was born in 1995, but it was ultimately decided that putting him to rest was for the best. He suffered through years of chronic hoof and leg issues that significantly affected his quality of life.
- Daphne also lived to be 31 years of age, residing at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. She passed away in 2016 after giving birth to multiple young at the zoo. She was the zoo’s star attraction, and upon her passing, the zoo donated all of the giraffe feeding proceeds to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
- Patches, the beloved giraffe from Zoo Knoxville in Knoxville, Tennessee, passed away at the age of 31 as well. She gave birth to roughly eight giraffes during her time in captivity, and, similarly to Jimmie, was afflicted with long-term arthritis. However, she lived a long and happy life during her time at the zoo!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Craig Fraser/Shutterstock.com
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