If you want to see giraffes, you have to stick your neck out a bit. For starters look up above the treetops – there’s one mammal here on the plains with a better view of the savannah than anyone else. For sheer grace and impression nothing beats the site of these giants ambling across the road in front of you, with their unusual gait and sentinel heads atop a giant neck. Seeing them inside a zoo is common, but seeing them freely roaming the wilds, with their bird’s eye view of the animal kingdom, is truly a memorable part of your safari.
Giraffes are one of the most majestic animals you’re likely to see on an African safari, and are quite common residents. They are not endangered and browse in herds of up to 40 or so by day. To predators they are quite well camouflaged, but to us humans, their long necks stick out like tall poppies .They can be spotted all year round, but if you want to see baby giraffe in particular, the best time to visit is in early summer which runs from September to December.
Giraffa Camelopardis (in Latin meaning a cross between a camel and horse) is one of the best-loved animals among the popular species of folklore. From childhood, we’ve known them in Aesop tales and children’s books with striking pictures of giraffes. They are widely found across Africa, confined now mostly to game reserves that stretch from South Africa’s Kruger Park to small pockets in West Africa.
Interesting facts about giraffes – there are in fact at least seven common sub-species of giraffes in Africa each identified by a distinct skin pattern, depending on whether you spot them in Central Africa, the Kalahari, Sudan or Nigeria. They might seem like ungainly animals, standing some 2m high at the hip with necks that often tower more than 5m from the ground, but make no mistake this is one of the fastest animals on the plains, capable of galloping 50 kilometres per hour. Although speedy, they have little to run away from as they are hunted by few predators and calmly munch on the treetop foliage (with distinctive giraffe sounds) that others can’t reach. The neck extension is a classic Darwinian adaption for survival.
Acacia is the favourite giraffe diet and is a common, thorny, flat-topped and hardy tree found in semi-arid or sub-tropical woodland, and frequent giraffe behaviour is to see them craning their necks to reach the thorns which its durable tongue makes light work of. With no competition for grazing, the giraffe gets through 30kgs of leaves a day. With this convenient and unchallenged food-chain they are far from endangered.
Where To See Giraffes in Africa
1. East Africa
The plains of the Serengeti and Masai Mara are quintessential safari spotting country; wide plains inside the African rift valley typified by grasslands and flat-topped trees offering a perfect shot for the camera, as giraffe heads tower above the low canopy. Big storms bring thundering rain turning the landscape a lush green. Here you might spot the rare Reticulated Giraffe (c. reticulata), the Rothschild Giraffe (c. rothschildi) or the more common Masai Giraffe (c. tippelskirchi,).
Where To Stay
Giraffe Manor Nairobi: sounds improbable but this iconic 1930s boutique hotel is located just outside the city near the Ngong Hills, and includes the Giraffe Centre for rescued animals. It has become well-known for re-introducing Rothschild giraffes back into the wild. There are 12 acres of private land (with beautifully maintained gardens and courtyards) and 140 acres of indigenous forest with the Nairobi National Park nearby. The Giraffe Manor is all about giraffes and world famous for having close encounters with these magnificent creatures.
Amara Selous Luxury Tented Camp: is in the Selous Game Reserve – a World Heritage site with endless grasslands perfect for spotting giraffe. It’s noted for pristine wilderness and plenty of animals. Relax in the elevated pool gazing over the Great Ruaha River and wait for thirsty giraffe to amble up to the waterside.
2. Kruger National Park, South Africa
The Kruger National Park is an obvious choice, having a large population of common species, with game sightings prolific and a suitable giraffe habitat. The Pilansberg National Park near Sun City is more convenient, but requires more patience. Madikwe Reserve in the far north is drier making them easier to spot while The Hluhluwe (pronounced shoo-shluee) Imfolozi Game Reserves in Northern Natal are lusher than their inland counterparts. The private Sabi Sabi Reserve has plenty of giraffes too. In fact, almost all reserves in South Africa are likely to be stocked with this common species. Look out for the South African giraffe (c. giraffa).
Where To Stay
Hamilton’s Tented Camp: Situated in the heart of the Kruger Park and reminiscent of a bygone era. Game drives almost always include giraffe. It’s a luxurious affair with a long history and is situated in prime giraffe country, perfect for taking exquisite giraffe pictures. There’s a convenient flight connection to this part of Eastern South Africa.
Madikwe River Lodge: sits on the banks of the Groot Marico River, in a malaria-free reserve, with frequent giraffe sightings from the camp itself.
Thanda Safari Lodge: in a private game reserve in Kwazulu-Natal, comprising nine suites with panoramic views of Zululand. Giraffe are plentiful in this park which is full of their favourite acacia, along with the Big Five.
3. Etosha National Park, Namibia
Etosha National Park is Namibia’s biggest game reserve and a great place to spot giraffe thanks to flat wide open spaces. Also, being drier than other parks, the bush and trees don’t hide the animals and they are forced to the watering holes more often. Here you will see the Angola Giraffe (c. angolensis).
Where To Stay
Onguma Bush Camp: is a classic safari-style accommodation with big game viewing overlooking a waterhole in a private reserve bordering the Etosha National Park.
Hwange National Park near Victoria Falls is one of the region’s best stocked national parks and, even on a simple self-drive excursion from Victoria Falls by rental car, you’re likely to come across these lofty animals sauntering across one of the paved roads that take you to the main camps.
Where To Stay
The Hide: has consistently been voted Zimbabwe’s top game camp, with its prime setting inside the park and a satisfying offering of game drives, bush walking, hide viewing or sitting overlooking the waterhole from the tented camp.
Whichever location you choose to see these fascinating and elegant animals, a safari just wouldn’t quite be the same without seeing giraffes!