THE LONGEST NECK IN THE WORLD
Of all the animals in the world, the giraffe is the tallest and has the longest neck. A male giraffe`s head may be as much as six metres above the ground. A female is only a little shorter. Nearly half the giraffe`s great height is in its neck and head. Even so, the giraffe has only seven bones in its neck the same as most othermamals. But each of the bones is very long.
A giraffe eats leaves and grass. In order to eat grass it must spread its front feet wide apart so that it can get its head down the ground. Mostly it eats leaves. The giraffe`s long neck enable it to eat leaves that are beyond the reach of other ground animals. The giraffe twists its long toungue round the highest leaves and pulls them into its mouth. Then it chews them with its teeth and long, flexible upper lip.
The giraffe lives in Africa on dry, sunny plains and along the edges of forests. Its colouring helps to hide it from its main enemy, the lion. The brown-and- cream pattern of the giffare`s coat blends into the patterns of leaves and shadows. Such a kind of disguise is called natural camouflage.
The giraffe has still other weapons against meat-eating animals. It has sharp eyesight and long, swift legs. If it is cornered, it kicks out with its big front hooves. Lions usually attack a giffare when it is drinking water with its forelegs spread and its head down.
Both male and female giraffes have small horns. The horns are covered break off like those of other horned cattle.Giraffes sometimes push and strike each other with their heads. But mostly they are peaceful animals.
The mother giraffe gives birth to one baby at a time, perhaps every two years. Giraffe mothers, fathers, and their young generally travel in small herds of a dozen or so.
The long-necked giraffe has a short-necked cousin called the okapi. Until the 20th century, scientists did not know whether the okapi was real or merely a legend. They heard about it but had never seen one. Finally in 1901, proof of the okapi was found in the Congo. The proof –a skin and two skulls—was sent to London.
A shy animal, the okapi is about the size of a small horse. In colour it is reddish or sometimes bluish brown, with white stripes on its legs. Only the male has horns.
Giraffes and okapis form a family of animals all by themselves, having no other species. Their closest relatives are probably deer.
Millions of years ago giraffes lived in many parts of the world. They lived in Europe and Asia as well as in Africa.