what do giraffes eat
Feeding a giraffe at Binder Park Zoo.

What do giraffes eat?

The diet of Giraffa camelopardalis

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what do giraffes eat
A giraffe feeding high up on an acacia
Image: Steve Garvie

What do giraffes eat? Mainly foods that are pretty tall. These animals are browsers, which means they eat the leaves of bushes and especially trees. In the wild their primary foods are the leaves and twigs of acacia, mimosa, and wild apricot trees (also various trees and shrubs in the genera Commiphora and Terminalia). Still, their diet does extend well beyond the more commonly eaten plants just mentioned. They even eat some fruit. And they also show individual food preferences.

Leaves of Acacia nilotica
Acacia nilotica, a favorite giraffe food. Note the large thorns. Photo: J. M. Garg
Picture of a giraffe splaying its legs and eating off the ground
Giraffe eating off the ground.

Mostly giraffes eat plants they can easily reach. They do, however, eat some grass. But these huge animals have to splay their front legs wide apart to eat short grass close to the ground. You can see this in the picture at right.

Typically a giraffe will eat about 30 kg (~66 lbs) of food a day (a large one may eat up to 34 kg), but can survive on as little as 15 kg.

Their water requirements are similar to those of a camel. They can go for weeks or even months without any water at all. On average, though, a giraffe drinks about 7.5 liters (~2 gallons) of water a week.

giraffe tongue
The long tough tongue of a giraffe

A giraffe's tough mouth and its great height allow it to reach and eat foods most other animals can't. Giraffes have a long prehensile tongue, and both the tongue and lips are virtually unaffected by thorny branches that most herbivores would not be able to utilize as food. They strip leaves from limbs, even very prickly ones, like those of the acacia (see picture above), by enclosing a portion of the branch within the mouth and pulling the head back. The impervious lips and tongue rip the leaves away.

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