June 20 is the Northern Hemisphere's summer solstice, the longest day of the year. So what better time to celebrate an animal known for its long neck? That's right: In honor of the solstice, June 21 is World Giraffe Day.
Because of their unique appearance, giraffes were once called long-necked camel leopards. But believe it or not, humans and giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks—seven—though the giraffes use them a bit differently. Scientists still aren’t sure about all the evolutionary benefits of the long neck, but whether it only helps to reach the tops of trees, or if it can woo a potential partner, the result is a beautiful beast that can soar to 19 feet tall. (Learn more about giraffes here.)
Unfortunately, giraffes’ numbers have been in steady decline in recent years due to vanishing habitats and ever-present poachers. The IUCN lists giraffes as a whole as “least concern”—but only provisionally. There are nine subspecies of giraffes, and two of them—the Rothschild and the West African—are endangered. The fine print of the IUCN’s study explains that giraffes are completely gone from some of their native countries, and their population is trending downward.
To applaud these gentle giants, we collected 14 of our favorite photos that celebrate their grace, beauty, and, yes, awkwardness.