Giraffidae – Giraffes

Only two genera left, one patterned with patches, the other with stripes. In 1986 we found out they were related

This family’s evolutionary history is rich, with numerous species once roaming across Africa and Eurasia. However, today, only two representatives remain: the giraffe, known for its extraordinary height and social behavior, and the okapi, a solitary creature of the dense African forests.

Giraffes are renowned for being the tallest living terrestrial animals, a trait that gives them both a feeding advantage and a unique set of challenges. Their long legs and necks allow them to reach foliage unavailable to other herbivores, primarily feeding on the leaves and shoots of trees such as acacias, which are abundant in their sub-Saharan African habitats. This diet is high in nutrients and moisture, reducing the need for giraffes to drink on a daily basis. Giraffes live in loose herds, which can vary in size from a few individuals to several dozen. These groups are not fixed; giraffes will join and leave as they please, a behavior known as “fission-fusion” dynamics.

The okapi, less known but equally fascinating, inhabits the dense rainforests of the Congo Basin. Solitary by nature, okapis are rarely seen together outside of mating. Their striped hindquarters and legs give them a striking resemblance to zebras, though they are more closely related to giraffes. This cryptic coloration, along with their reclusive nature, helps okapis blend into their forest surroundings, making them difficult to spot both for predators and researchers.

Despite their adaptations and evolutionary success, giraffes and okapis face significant threats from habitat destruction, poaching, and the impacts of climate change. Giraffes, once plentiful across their range, have seen their populations decline in many areas, leading to their being listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Okapis are even more at risk, classified as endangered due to their limited range and the ongoing conflict and deforestation in the Congo Basin.