Sunday, October 30

The Astonishing Giraffe

Are we going to see a giraffe?? One of the more common "first"questions I get when going to Kruger with international guests.

This quirky African herbivore catches the imagination like few other large mammals.

Yet according to a published scientific paper (in the journal Current Biology) of 8th September 2016, one reason no-one has identified previously that there are actually 4 different species (and 5 sub-species) of giraffe, is that they haven't been studied enough!

(Note:- all these pictures are of the Southern Giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), South African sub-species, with one exception - the last Etosha photo shows giraffe of the Angola sub-species).

So, moving on from the science of giraffe, I thought it high time I shared with you, on this blog, a bit more about this striking animal and my experiences with it.
A bachelor herd, ranging in age
One of the coolest collective names in the animal kingdom is for the giraffe. A "tower" describes the giraffe in these photos rather well doesn't it? Less used collective names are also "corps" and "journey".

Grouping closely together to cross an open area/river bed
Strangely enough, although we commonly see giraffe in towers, their social organisation, as described by Estes, is gregarious but loose, open, casual and non-lasting. Sorry, I'm taking big liberties with his original text, but you get my drift?

Giraffe only feed close together when all on the same tree
 The longest, and best established bonds are between females and their calves (until they grow up that is.....)

As a guide I really shouldn't use the term "cute"but is there any better term for a giraffe calf??



The amazing thing about giraffe calves, is that they are already 2 metres (6 feet) tall when they are born, and the 25 - 50% of calves lucky enough to survive the lions and hyena in their first vulnerable month, grow another metre by 6 months, and almost double in height by the time they are 12 months old!

A survival necessity!


Talking of predators, across Africa adult giraffe are largely invulnerable to most, due to their size, excellent eye-sight and dangerous hooves. 

With the exception of lion. In Kruger, it is not uncommon to find lion on a giraffe kill.

Of course, a giraffe's great size, extra long legs and neck does make them awkward and vulnerable when they need to drink. As a result they are extra cautious when approaching water holes and drink as quickly as they can. Fortunately for them they can survive for many days without water, as they can get enough from the green leaves they eat, and/or dew on those leaves (during the wet season).

During winter (our dry season) you can see they are very challenged to find sufficient leaf to eat!

Just look at that tongue!! It's one of the longest in the animal kingdom - up to 45cm long!!


Giraffe are browsers (I have been asked before what animals they hunt!!!!) and their favourite leaves/browse are from acacia trees. But they will feed, when times are hard from almost any tree that's got leaf - or flowers as you can see.

A mature male giraffe can reach up to 5.8 metres, and so tend to browse from the taller trees.


Female giraffe tend to more commonly browse lower trees and bushes.....

So what do you think this particular giraffe is doing??!   There's no water to be seen!?

Well, it's licking at mineral-rich soil. I've even seen giraffe suck on old bones. This is to get extra minerals, especially calcium, into their diet to help keep their bones strong.


A much more common sight with giraffe are the ubiquitous oxpeckers. I'm actually astounded that the pictures above show hardly any sign of an oxpecker (see if you can spot the one exception!)

So here are a couple of pics with red-billed oxpeckers, one perched in a typical position and the other "grazing"on the giraffe's skin.

Despite their long necks and short bodies, giraffe find it very difficult to groom the parasites off their skin, so the ox-peckers play a vital role here.

As persistent as the oxpeckers can be, even they cannot hold on when male giraffe decide to spar for dominance.

I haven't often witnessed a serious, high-intensity contest between 2 males, but it is an impressive, graceful though brutal, slow-motion affair..... (I've blogged about this before.... to see more pictures click on Battling Giraffe)


These 2 males are lined up ready to resume a contest.

Low-intensity contests can just be a matter of leaning and shoving each other, but occasionally they escalate to the neck-swinging, head-thudding stage.....


No known deaths have occurred during these challenges as it makes much more sense for the loser to concede the battle and live to try again.

Well, it's time to wind up this extra long, and informative posting.

Worth it considering the striking subject?

Here's a last picture, a favourite landscape from the wide-open spaces of Etosha, Namibia.

Estes - The Behavior Guide to African Mammals
Carnaby - Beat About the Bush - Mammals


Gaelyn said...

Great post. Giraffes are fascinating to watch in their gangely yet graceful motion. Saw two young males necking at Augrabies and took video of their performance. Love to see "towers" of giraffes.

Coral Wild said...

Thanks for the visit and comment Gaelyn.

That video must be great. It's difficult to describe in just words or even pictures!

Jackie said...

Great post Sue

Coral Wild said...

Thanks Jackie :) <3

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Coral - they are wonderful photos ... and the giraffe is an amazing creature ... so lovely to see them loping or walking around -cheers Hilary

lyn o'doherty said...

Amazing photos and such interesting facts-thank you

Coral Wild said...

Hello Hilary, thanks for the visit/comment. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

Thanks Lyn for the feedback :)