My life as a giraffe kid

By Twiga, age 4, from Serengeti ecosystem, Tanzania

Hello, I’m Twiga the giraffe and this is my story.

I am 4 years old. I am a female subadult giraffe. I live in the Serengeti woodlands in Tanzania. It is beautiful where I live.

My hobbies are eating leaves, hanging out with friends and family, and keeping a lookout over my woodland home.

Honestly, it has been a tough road getting to age 4. There have been lots of adventures and misadventures along the way. But it’s a good life being a giraffe. I am almost an adult now!

I bet you’re wondering what it’s like growing up as a giraffe kid? I’ll walk you through it!

Where it all began…

Just like you, we giraffes are placental mammals. That means that a giraffe fetus grows inside its mother’s uterus, being nourished by the placenta. This may sound kind of weird, but it’s actually pretty incredible.

It takes a long time (about 15 months) for a baby giraffe to develop inside its Mom – this is called the gestation period.

But it doesn’t take long for us to look like a giraffe, or so I heard from a doctor who was here on safari. Apparently if you look at a sonogram of a giraffe fetus, you can already see a long neck and long legs after only 2 months of growth!

And did you know that we giraffes have only 7 cervical vertebrae (those are our neck bones)? That’s the same number that you have! Each of our neck vertebrae are supersized.

Born ready to face the world!

Before I was born, my Mom found a safe space away from the herd to give birth. My Mom is over 4 m (13 feet) tall. When I was born, I came out legs and head first and then fell 2 m (6.6 ft) to the ground. Bump! As you can imagine, it was a big fall.

A couple of hours after birth I was up standing and ready to face the world! Mom and I spent some time bonding, just the two of us.

At birth, we giraffes are known as neonates. That means the same thing as newborn. A newborn giraffe is super cute, if I do say so myself. We have big eyes, a short neck (for a giraffe, that is), and a fluffy coat. At birth our ossicones (that’s the name for our special horns) are flattened – they will pop up and grow bigger as we age.

First things first, a calf has got to get some nutrients in its belly! I learned to drink rich milk from my Mom. It was delicious.

Did you know? I once saw 3 of my friends nursing from the same giraffe … but only one of them was her calf! That’s called allonursing. She must have been a pretty tolerant mother. I don’t think my Mom would have allowed it. Usually a mother giraffe only gives milk to her own babies.

Young calves drink a lot of milk, up to 8-10 liters per day! But we soon start supplementing our diet with leaves. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute because plants are positively important if you’re a giraffe like me.

Meeting the gang

Shortly after I was born, Mom took me out of hiding. I met a few of my aunties and some family friends from the woodland. They were awesome. We still hang out.

We giraffes have something called a fission-fusion social system. At times we hang out in a big group, especially when there is lots of fresh food to eat! Other times we split up into small groups. It just depends, really.

When I was small and Mom got hungry she sometimes used to leave me with other calves in a nursery group called a crèche. Usually an aunty or friend would babysit us. Sometimes it was just us kids. Between you and me, there were some babysitters I liked more than others. Watch out for Aunty Miti! She never let us have any fun.

Our nursery group met in an open grassy place. It’s safer to be away from dense woodland and river banks when lions are on the prowl. Lions can ambush us if we’re not careful. Our nursery spot was a great place for us to run and play in relative safety.

Lookout! Learning to avoid predators

Predators are a big deal when you’re a giraffe calf. Only about half of us survive and make it to our first birthday.

When we’re really young, we have a few different predators, like lions, leopards, hyenas, and occasionally crocodiles. But lions are definitely the most dangerous of them.

One time, when I was really small, a female lion tried to attack me. It was terrifying. Mom fought back. She kicked out at the lion with her legs. Another lion attacked her to try and distract her. Thankfully, we were both okay in the end, but Mom has these big scars from where the lion grabbed her.

Another time one of my friends didn’t make it. I wasn’t there, but I heard that her Mom stayed near her carcass for 3 days. It was really sad.

As we get bigger, it becomes harder for lions to hunt us. But they still try. Every now and then lions kill big bull giraffes that are over 5 m (16 feet) tall!

The good thing is, when your head is up in the clouds you can keep an eye out on the neighborhood. We giraffes have big eyes and great peripheral vision – that means that we can see things around ourselves well, without even moving our heads! We are the watchtowers of the woodland. Other herbivores like zebras and gazelles look to us to see if danger is lurking.

Learning about plants

Like I said before, my first birthday was a big deal! When I turned 1 I officially became a subadult.

Mom told me the milk bar was closed. No more milk meant I had to eat leaves and other plant matter from then on. Eating is big business for a giraffe. It takes a lot of leaves and shoots to grow as tall as a single story house. But I’m good at it now.

Did you know that adult giraffes eat about 30 kg (66 pounds) of food in a day? I’m guessing that’s a lot more than you eat each day.

Some of the plants we eat are armed with sharp thorns. It’s a good thing we have a prehensile tongue. We learn how to use our tongue to carefully reach around thorns and pluck off juicy sweet leaves.

I have also learned that some trees taste icky. Blech. I avoid those ones.

By watching Mom and the herd and testing things out myself, I’ve learned what’s good to eat and where to find food and also water. We do need to drink sometimes.

See how we grow!

All that milk and food means that we grow fast. Here are some pics from my photo album. I hope you enjoy them. These are some friends of mine. You can see how they change:

This little buddy of mine is called Mrefu. Mrefu means tall in Swahili. He grew really fast!

And this is me, from age 2 to age 4. I don’t know what happened to the photos from when I was a baby – Mom thinks the cheetahs took them as a joke. Not a very funny joke, if you ask me.

Time for adventure

When we giraffes turn 1 we become more adventurous. We’ve survived this far and we are ready for more action! Plus, we’ve stopped drinking milk from Mom, so we don’t need to stay with her all the time. We start exploring our neighborhood and getting to know the neighbors.

I noticed that when the boys become subadults, they start to wander off more. They hang out together in groups. They spar and play fight, especially as they get older. I don’t know what that’s all about. It looks painful.

The boys still check back with us and visit their mothers. But by the time they’re 4 years old, they’ll probably leave Mom for good and prepare for their life as an adult. I’m 4 now, and some of the boys I grew up with have already left the woodland.

We girl giraffes tend to stay closer to home. Some of us will continue hanging out with Mom and our aunties and friends in the herd. But we’ll also spend some time in small groups or alone. Seriously, don’t we all need some alone time?!

Soon I’ll be an adult

When I turn 5, I’ll be an adult. I can’t wait for my party! I think some choice leaves will be on the menu.

I’ve learned so much as a kid, and that’s no exaggeration. I can socialize with the changing herd. I can find good food to eat and water when I need it. And I am quite good at avoiding predators.

So, what’s up next for me? I don’t know exactly, but from the group chatter it sounds like I’ll soon start breeding. And one day I’ll probably be a mom too.

For now, I’m content to continue exploring my neighborhood, meeting the other animals, and filling up on juicy leaves.

And lions, you beware! I have my eye(s) on you.

And that is the story of my life as a giraffe kid. If you ever come to my Serengeti woodland home – and I do recommend that you visit – keep a lookout for me. You can recognize me from my spot markings.

Text & graphics by Megan Strauss

Scientific consultants: David Brown, Monica Bond, Jason Pootoolal

Edited and produced by Mongabay Kids

With thanks to Wild Nature Institute for photographs

This story was created as part of World Giraffe Week celebrations


Bond, Monica & Lee, Derek. (2019). Simultaneous multiple‐calf allonursing by a wild Masai giraffe. African Journal of Ecology. 58. 10.1111/aje.12673.

Strauss, Megan & Raw, Zoe. (2013). Giraffe mothers in East Africa linger for days near the remains of their dead calves. African Journal of Ecology. 51. 10.1111/aje.12040.

Strauss, M.K.L. & Packer, C. (2013), Lion predation on giraffes. J Zool, 289: 134-142.

GiraffeBiologyBehaviour and Conservation Dagg, Anne Innis. Cambridge University Press (2014).