Curtin, Charles B. Department of Biology, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska.
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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). Once thought to consist of a single extant species (Giraffa camelopardalis), animal researchers and geneticists have determined that the giraffe comprises four distinct species: the northern giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), including three subspecies; the southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), including two subspecies; the reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata); and the Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi). 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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