Early written records described the giraffe as "magnificent in appearance, bizarre in form, unique in gait, colossal in height and inoffensive in character." Ancient cultures in Africa revered the giraffe, as some modern cultures do today, and commonly depicted it in prehistoric rock and cave paintings.
Unknown outside of Africa, this animal so excited man's curiosity that it was sometimes sent as a diplomatic gift to other countries; one of the earliest records tells of a giraffe going from "Melinda" (presumably Malindi) in Kenya to China in 1415. The animal was thought to be a cross between a camel and a leopard, a mistake immortalized in the giraffe's scientific name of Giraffa camelopardalis.
The giraffe is the tallest living animal, uniquely adapted to reach vegetation inaccessible to other herbivores. Giraffes have a distinctive walking gait, moving both right legs forward, then both left. At a gallop, however, the giraffe simultaneously swings the hind legs ahead of and outside the front legs, reaching speeds of 35 miles an hour. It has unusually elastic blood vessels with a series of valves that help offset the sudden buildup of blood (and to prevent fainting) when the head is raised, lowered or swung quickly. Giraffe "horns" are actually knobs covered with skin and hair above the eyes that protect the head from injury.