Giraffe stretched her neck to heaven

Every time I find a Giraffe on our game drives in the African bush I greet him / her.  Don’t know why, but I absolutely adore these animals.  Giraffes are known throughout Africa for their natural curiosity.  An old African folk tale tells of God speaking to His newly created animals as to their purpose on earth.  The name “Twiga” was bestowed upon the giraffes by the Shona people.  As God spoke to Twiga, she stretched her neck to heaven to hear Him more clearly.  God was pleased and gave her a long, elegant neck so she could reach the leaves of the tallest trees, and as a sign to others that extra effort is rewarded.  Such a nice story isn’t it?

Darwin was the first to propose that long necks evolved in giraffes because they enabled the animals to eat foliage beyond the reach of shorter browsers.  That seemingly sensible explanation has held up for over a century, but it is probably wrong, says Robert Simmons.  Simmons, a behavioural ecologist at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Windhoek, Namibia, believes giraffes developed long necks not to compete for food but to win mates.  Simmons was studying eagles in Sabi Sand Reserve in South Africa when he happened to come upon a pair of male giraffes locked in combat.  Male giraffes battle for mates by swinging their powerful necks, which can be over six feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds.  The momentum generated allows them to slam their heads into their opponents with vertebrae-shattering, and occasionally lethal, force.  In these contests, males with the longest, thickest necks usually prevail.  As Simmons watched the fight, he became convinced that this competition for mates, not stretching for treetop food, was what drove the evolution of the neck.  If competition for food had spurred the elongation, says Simmons, then you would expect giraffes to graze mainly from tall acacia trees beyond the reach of other savanna inhabitants.  But giraffes feed mostly with their necks bent, along low bushes.  Moreover, their short, stubby horns probably evolved to better concentrate the force of their head blows.

The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest of all extant land-living animal species, and the largest ruminant.  Its scientific name, which is similar to its archaic English name of camelopard, refers to its irregular patches of colour on a light background, which bear a token resemblance to a leopard’s spots, and its face, which is similar to that of a camel.  The average mass for an adult male giraffe is 1,200 kilograms (2,600 lb) while the average mass for an adult female is 830 kilograms (1,800 lb).  It is approximately 4.3 metres (14 ft) to 5.2 metres (17 ft) tall, although the tallest male recorded stood almost 6 metres (20 ft).  Giraffe’s tongue’s are blue and can extend more than 40cm long.  Each Giraffe has its own unique pattern of coat markings.  There are nine species of Giraffe.  The Giraffe has seven neck vertebrae like a human, despite its long neck.

Giraffes move in loose herds on the open woodlands and grasslands of the African Savannah.  Eating mostly at dusk and dawn on leaves and fruit, the Giraffe’s main food source is the acacia tree.  They will drink where possible, but can survive where it is in short supply.  To drink, a Giraffe must spread its front legs so its head can reach the water.  It has a distinctive walking style as it moves both legs on the same side forward at the same time.  At a gallop, the Giraffe can reach speeds of up to 55 km/hour and rhythmically moves its head backwards and forwards to pull forward its weight.  The giraffe is related to other even-toed ungulates, such as deer and cattle, but is placed in a separate family, the Giraffidae, consisting of only the giraffe and its closest relative, the okapi, and their extinct relatives. Its range extends from Chad in Central Africa to South Africa.  Giraffes usually inhabit savannas, grasslands, or open woodlands.  However, when food is scarce they will venture into areas with denser vegetation.

Even though the Giraffe is a quiet animal, it does make a distinctive flute-like noise as well as grunts and moans.  It has a sharp sense of hearing and can alert animals of nearby predators.  Giraffe are not territorial; however they will stay within a certain area and have a male hierarchy.  The male giraffe is both taller and heavier than the female. Both sexes have skin-covered knobs, called ossicones, on the top of their heads. Female ossicones are smaller and have a small tuft of fur on top, while male ossicones are bald on the top. These knobs are used to protect the head when male giraffes fight, which involves swinging their necks at each other in a show of strength called “necking.”

Mating can occur at any time of the year and calves are born after a gestation of 16 months.  When caring for their young, the female Giraffe will leave their calves together during the day to feed.  A calf will grow very fast when young, even up to an inch per day.  By two months, the calf will be feeding on leaves and by six months, it will be quite independent of its mother.  Full grown, a Giraffe will grow up to four to six meters and live up to 28 years (not as long in the wild).

The giraffe’s fur may serve as a chemical defense, and is full of antibiotics and parasite repellents that gives the animal a characteristic scent.  Old males are sometimes nicknamed “stink bulls”.  There are at least eleven main aromatic chemicals in the fur, although indole and 3-methylindole are responsible for most of their smell.  Because the males have a stronger odor than the females, it is also suspected that it has a sexual function.  The giraffe has one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, which averages 4.6 hours per 24 hours.  In general, they sleep with their feet tucked under them and their head resting on their hindquarters, but they can also sleep for short periods of time standing up.

The Giraffe does not have many predators, but if threatened, the Giraffe has two defense methods, it will kick it’s aggressor with its front legs or it will use its long neck and densely boned skull as a mallet against another Giraffe.  The main predator of the Giraffe is the human.  Not many African animals will attack a full grown Giraffe, but a calf will be attacked, usually by a Hyena.

One day, a giraffe was standing in a pond while a monkey was sitting in a nearby tree.  The monkey, who was not a good swimmer, saw the giraffe and asked him, “How deep is that pond?”  The giraffe replied, “The water’s only up to my knees.”  The monkey heard this and went in the water.  Shortly later, however, he was on the verge of drowning, and shouting for help.  The giraffe quickly rescued him and took him out of the pond.  The monkey angrily looked at giraffe and yelled, “Why did you trick me!”  “I didn’t tell you that the pond was shallow,” the giraffe replied.  “I said that the water was up to my knees—that doesn’t mean the water isn’t deep.  After all, I’m much taller than you, and just because the water isn’t deep for me, it doesn’t mean that it will be the same for you!”



Author: Africa Road Travel

Africa Road Travel is an established inbound southern African tour operator. Our parent company (Cape AgriTours) was established more than 14 years ago, Africa Road Travel started in 2001 and opened their own independent offices in Cape Town in 2004. Since then the company has grown in leaps and bounds, besides the years of accumulated professional industry knowledge and experience, we enjoy special industry contracts with many service providers, Hotels and Guest Houses. This allows us to provide you with individual attention, free assistance with your vacation plans, a free ground handling service and discount prices.

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