Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) count among my favourite animals in the wild. You would think that their long legs and necks would make them stand out yet, despite them being the world’s tallest mammals, they can easily ‘disappear’ into their environment.
They prefer to inhabit open woodland and wooded grassland, although have also adapted to the desert conditions in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, for example.
When you spot a single giraffe, do take a careful look around for they often occur in small groups.
Naturally enough, their height allows giraffe to browse on leaves and pods above the range of ‘normal’ browsers.
The long prehensile tongue is used to pull food into the mouth which is then stripped from the stems with spatulate incisor teeth. They are exclusively browsers, with most of their feeding confined to the foliage of bushes and trees. Like cows, giraffes spend some time regurgitating their food and chewing the cud.
As you can imagine, it is not easy for a giraffe to drink water. In order to reach the water, they have to spread their legs and bend down in an awkward position that makes them vulnerable to predators such as lions.
Fortunately, giraffes satisfy most of their water needs from the plants they eat and so they do not need to drink water every day. Giraffes have elastic blood vessels and uniquely adapted valves that help to offset the sudden build-up of blood when their heads are raised, lowered, or swung quickly – as when drinking or fighting.
Both male and female giraffes sport skin-covered knobs (ossicones) on their heads. Female ossicones have a small tuft of fur on top, while male ossicones are bald. These knobs protect the head when males indulge in a ritualized form of fighting known as ‘necking’.
This involves swinging their necks at each other in a show of strength and is carried out during the time a female is in oestrus. They also intertwine their necks, which, to the casual observer, looks like a courtship ritual.