Every guide out there has had this question before “what do giraffes eat”?

This seems to be a straight forward question and very easy to answer.

Have you ever explained to your guests that giraffes feed almost exclusively on the succulent green leaves of the trees found on the savanna plains and having observed them doing so, you or your guests might notice a giraffe chewing on a bone?

Giraffe are herbivorous and have been recorded to feed on more than 100 species of plants with a staple diet of acacia leaves. Giraffe have been seen chewing on dried bones for their calcium content. While leaves are preferred, a giraffe will browse on many other kinds of vegetation, especially in the dry season.

Giraffe food preferences change according to seasons: in the dry season, they seem to be fine with pine like needles. They feed by browsing, which typically means they eat continuously throughout the day. A male is able to eat 75 pounds of food in a single day.

Giraffe use their sense of smell to locate the leaves they want. They ingest everything on the branch when eating, including insects, bark, and thorns. The giraffe uses its massive tongue (up to eighteen inches long) to scrape off the leaf and have very tough lips to guard against scratching. Reticulated giraffe are ruminants, just like cows and other ungulates. Their stomach has four parts, with food passing through the first and water going directly to the second. The first stomach partially digests the twigs, leaves, and whatever else the giraffe has ingested whole.

During the day, when the animal is not feeding, parts of this fermented mixture are brought back up from the stomach in hard lumps. Giraffe chew on these lumps, called cud, throughout the day, helping to further break the food down. Once they are done chewing on the piece of cud, it is sent to the third stomach, and finally the fourth stomach to be digested fully.

Giraffe are very good at conserving water in the hot African climate. They are able to conserve and maintain their body temperature in part because of their shape – their long thin legs allow heat to release quickly. The leaves they eat are actually a good source of water, and can allow them to go days without a drink.

Giraffe have a difficult time lowering their massive heads to the ground to drink, and this also leaves them vulnerable to predators. They are able to reach water by spreading their front legs and stretching their neck down.

Wayne – Kapama River Lodge

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