Curtin, Charles B. Department of Biology, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska.
Last reviewed:June 2021
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An artiodactyl member of the genus Giraffa in the mammalian family Giraffidae. The giraffe (see illustration) is the only extant member of the genus Giraffa (family Giraffidae, class Mammalia). Giraffes were once thought to consist of a single extant species (G. camelopardalis). However, animal researchers and geneticists have proposed that the giraffe comprises four distinct extant species: the northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), including three subspecies; the southern giraffe (G. giraffa), including two subspecies; the reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata); and the Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi). (It should be noted that some taxonomists adhere to the idea of one extant species of giraffe, whereas other taxonomists suggest two to nine extant species as possibilities.) The giraffe is characterized by two prominent horns on the head and an extreme elongation of the neck vertebrae. The other living species in the family Giraffidae is the okapi (Okapia johnstoni). There also are many known fossil species. The giraffe occurs in the savanna regions of tropical Africa, and the okapi ranges through the forested areas of the Congo. Both the giraffe and the okapi are ruminants and belong to the mammalian order Artiodactyla (which comprises the even-toed ungulates). See also: Africa; African mammals; Artiodactyla; Kalahari Desert; Mammalia; Savanna; Vertebra
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