WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU CROSS A LEOPARD WITH A CAMEL? A GIRAFFE!

The answer is a camelopardalis; Giraffa camelopardalis, named because it has a head like a camel and spots like a leopard.

The name “giraffe” has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word الزرافة al-zirāfah, perhaps from an African name. There were several Middle Eastern spellings such as jarraf, ziraph, and gerfauntz. The Italian form giraffa arose in the 1590’s from Arabic. It appears in English from the 16th century through the French girafe. The species name G.camelopardalis (camelopard) is derived from its Latin name, where it was described as having characteristics of both a camel and a leopard.

In Zulu, giraffe are given the name ‘inDlulamithi’ which literally means ‘taller than trees’. No reference to camels for obvious reasons.

In Afrikaans the word ‘horse’ got involved – Camel horse is the direct translation – perhaps ‘horse’ got involved because of its gait?


The modern day giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), an even toed ungulate (the same as cattle, camels, sheep, goats and even hippopotamus – but not horses), is the world’s tallest animal and largest ruminant (animals that partly digest their food and then regurgitate it to chew as ‘cud’).

The list of nine recognised subspecies is debatable but here they are. Only eighty thousand left on our continent – across all sub-species – some are really vulnerable at the moment taking into consideration that there were over 140 000 in 1999 but the giraffe remains unlisted on CITES.


Giraffa camelopardalis angolensis – Angolan giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum – Kordofan giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis camelopardalis – Nubian giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa – South African giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis peralta – West African giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata – Reticulated giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi – Rothschild’s giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti – Thornicroft’s giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi – Masai giraffe


We don’t worry too much about identifying the giraffe by its spots or camel-like facial features. We know the giraffe as the tallest land mammal in the world. Difficult to confuse it with a leopard or a camel because of its longer neck!


I thought I’d list a few anatomical facts about a giraffe (along with current scientific theory) that you may ponder while you enjoy your favourite mammal next time you’re in the bush.


Both sexes of giraffe have horns, formed from ossified cartilage and covered by skin – known as ossicones. You’ll be aware that you can sex a giraffe by the differences in these horns – hair tufts and size but these horns can also indicate age, particularly in the ma