acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Friday, October 16, 2009

the jiz of giraffes



Inspired by a recent comment on my blog from Reya of After The Gold Puppy, I shall attempt to describe giraffes from a very non scientific but observational place.


Giraffes are cool. They may have invented cool. They stand around like fashion models, with long legs and long necks, gazing out of heavy lidded limpid eyes through a veil of dark lashes. They are aloof. Different. They don't speak or make a noise that we can hear. They communicate between themselves via ultrasound – a secret language only giraffes can share.


Giraffes are unintrusive. They are quintessentially African, able to co-exist in areas with human livestock by their ability to reach higher browsing levels. Their collective noun is a Journey of Giraffes. Although often seen in small groups the larger group is usually more widely scattered, so they seem to travel together over a broad space keeping an eye out for each other over the treetops. We usually find that there are no giraffes at all in sight, and then suddenly they are everywhere – peeping out from behind trees, anthills and cruising the floodplains.



Giraffes can stare longer and harder than any other living thing. They can win any staring contest hands down. If they see something unusual or potentially harmful, they stare fixedly while deciding whether they need to flee. If we are looking for lions, we often try to follow the giraffes gaze, but sometimes they are just dozing, or ruminating.


They live on tiny little leaves of the acacia trees which they strip with the aid of their long blue tongues. Sometimes they chew on old bones for calcium. They have special valves in their neck so that when they stoop to drink at the waterhole, the blood keeps flowing to and from their brains – otherwise they would faint.



Because they are so quiet, aloof and elegant, we tend to assume they are non aggressive. However bull giraffes can get into angry fights when they swing their giant strong necks at the opponent – aiming a good size body blow. Their horns are bony extensions of their skulls covered with hide. On older bulls the bone can show through on the tips. An angry bull fight consists of graceful arcs and swoops, necks entwined, that can be to the death of the opponent.


Their main defence against predators is a powerful back kicking motion delivered while in flight.  They are strong enough to break a lions jaw, and send it flying. It is not uncommon to see giraffes with the scars of close encounters with lions, on their flanks. While on their feet they are pretty agile and strong, so a predator would need to knock them off balance in order to pull them down – or catch them in a tight corner.


They are very vulnerable when stooping to drink , and their stares pierce the surrounding bush for long minutes before they decide it is safe to do so.  In order to reach the water they have to spread their forelegs really wide, which also makes slippery mud a hazard. If their feet slip they can damage themselves so badly that they may not be able to get back onto them again. It is also a hazard of the mating procedure – so its not all plain sailing to be a giraffe.



I love it when the giraffes move in around the studio. They usually stay for several days and venture ever closer. It does mean though, that they are short of browsing in the reserve so it's a sign of a difficult time for them.


Their jigsaw pattered hides are distinctive and evocative, and amazingly good camouflage. If they are standing still amongst the trees, it is possible to drive right up to and almost past them before seeing them. Standing still and staring seems to be their first resort. Perhaps they are the information gatherers of the spectrum- silently watching all others go about their business and daily dramas. Giraffes are calm.


"Take Giraffes - why are they so dinosaur like and why cant they speak? I know why they survive but its like they go out of their way to be bizarre - a long snake like tongue, two horns sticking out of their heads that they hardly use.  They  seem to be on a different time scale to us too.  The stare too long.  They take too long to drink. Their clocks are ticking at a different pace. They have big bones - yet they eat little leaves, make tiny droppings, ; whats going on up there? Its embarassing - all they do is stare and not speak.  "  KJ

They don't peck on your windows, poo in your kitchen, steal your food, chase your guests, bite, climb trees, or scream in your ear.
Giraffes are cool.



29 comments:

Rob Inukshuk said...

Indeed they are quite possibly the coolest of all. Wonderful post Val.

Lyn said...

What a wonderful post! Your descriptions are so vivid; I've seen alot about elephants (which I love) but your post has given me a new fascination with giraffes). Thank you from Canada!

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Val: What a comprehensive look you have given us of this beautiful creature. Your writing is lovely and such a pleasure to 'float' through. Giraffes are cool, as is Val!!

Val said...

hi Rob - i have to agree!

Lyn - greetings Canada! giraffes are very understated but essential to our belief in the extraordinariness of everything :-)

Bonnie - thanks so much x

have a happy weekend xxxV

Angela said...

Val, I`m glad you never had to pick up a fainted giraffe!! Good they have those valves. Oh yes, they are marvellous. I remember them appearing in the early African morning light on the opposite banks of the Luangwa, spreading their front legs to an incredible angle, drinking for a long time and then galloping away, as in slow motion. They are so beautiful they make you choke.
So is this post of yours! How absolutely enchanting. Please,this must all go into your book! Also what KJ said about them. If only the ones who looked into your window would have left you a message (in Giraffian?) I`m sorry I don`t seem to want to stop talking about them. But they are so COOL. And you are the best observer...yes allright, I shut up. Great post!!!
(haha, veri word is specta. Spectacular, YES!)

Janet said...

Cool post

A long time back you sent me a one-liner . . .

My friends are cooler than giraffes, and giraffes they're cool!

I've always remembered it!!!
xxx

Fire Byrd said...

How cool to have cool giraffes coming by your studio. Must make you cool too. So all round coolness... good place to be.And so much more sophisticated than those naughty monkees
xx

Verily I go. said...

Congratulations to 'our' very cool Val and the celebration of giraffes.

NanU said...

Cool indeed! Thank you for this excellent portrait of Giraffes!

Lori ann said...

OOOOOOH. Since seeing giraffes in the african bush 8 years ago on my very first trip to the continent I've had a small obsession with these incredible creatures. From their soulful eyes to their sweet breath( i fed them in Kenya and had slobber on my whole arm!)they have charmed me like no other. It doesn't feel like I'm really there until I've seen a journey of them sailing like majestic ships through a sea of plains.
For anyone interested there is a book titled "Tall Blondes" by Lynn Sherr, another giraffophile, full of facts and photos.
thank you Val for a lovely post. I LOVE Giraffes!

Chris Wolf said...

Thank you thank you, I never knew.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Yeah! Giraffes -my favourite along with warthogs. Everyone always goes gaga for lions and buffalo and elephants. Not me.
Thanks Val!

Vagabonde said...

What an interesting post! These giraffes are really charming, if you can say that of a giraffe. I have always liked them but after reading your post I like them ever more. I just dream about what it must feel like to live amongst such beautiful animals. Since I cannot see them live I have beautiful signed lithographs in my bedroom so that I can look at them and visualize that I am there with them. I have zebras in a field, a couple of giraffes and prints of a lion, a couple of cheetahs and some elephants done by the late Simon Combes, who tragically died when he was attacked by a cape buffalo in Kenya. A very very interesting post.

e said...

Beautiful posting. Giraffes are amongst the most graceful of creatures. Happy weekend.

Janelle said...

great post! saw a few dead ones in natron this past week...too dry...and lots of dead zebra too....eeesh. it really needs to rain... sending love XXX j

Val said...

hi Geli - yes they are magical, and wondrous. a fainted giraffe would be quite a handful i imagine!x

Janet - yes and its still TRUE x

Firebyrd - i think they must be at the opposite end of the spectrum to monkeys :-)

Verily and NanU - thank you x

Lori - thanks for the book - i shall look for it. yes, giraffes....sigh


Chris Wolf - thanks for the visit.

Lauri - i agree, and there is a silent majority of us :-)

Vagabond - how interesting that you are visually surrounded by Africa in your home, and bookshelf!! so sad about Simon Combes

e - thank you and a peaceful sunday to you!

Janelle - how was the trip? drought sounds appalling - gawd i hope you get rain soon..and the perfect amount xx

Miranda said...

Oh they are cool indeed! I always loved the fact that the giraffes we get in Luangwa occur there and no-where else in the world. And the Chinyanja word for giraffe is nyamalikiti - animal that goes likiti, likiti, when it runs.

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow, wow and WOW!! Giraffes ARE cool! I didn't know any of this - except I do remember their long eyelashes from what we call "nature shows" on TV. I've never seen a giraffe at a zoo because I hate zoos. But wow! Thank you so much for this.

What amazing animals. And you, Val. THANK YOU!!!

Tiennie said...

Absolutely gorgeous!!!!

Will have to come and visit them and you one day!.

karen said...

Oh Val, I did love this post! Giraffes are really one of my favourite animals to see in the wild, and I am always marvelling at them... "what is going on up there, indeed!!" (thanks KJ :))

tam said...

One of my favourite posts of yours ever - so cool. Thanks.

Tessa said...

Brilliant! Val, this is a sparkling, elegant GEM of a post. I, too, am quite bonkers about giraffes. I remember riding flat out across the Athi Plains in Kenya - the wind in my hair and a herd of giraffe loping gracefully alongside us. Beautiful beyond words.

I popped in just to thank you so much for your kind wishes on my last post (eek that sounds awful -'last post' indeed! No way!) It really means alot to me. Thank you, thank you from the very heart of me!

As soon as our move is over and we are a bit more settled, I will definitely see you back in the Blogosphere. I'm already missing my special blogfriends like mad!

Tessa xx

Tessa said...

PS. Oh my goodness, I didn't know that Simon Combes had been fatally injured by a Cape Buffalo. I have the most wonderful pen and ink drawing done by him of an impala called Swara who my sister and brother-in-law rescued in the Mara as a baby when his mother was killed.

normana53 said...

Hello Val,

I have been following your blog for some time and have enjoyed your many posts. My wife Tricia and I both really love Giraffe. We just returned from our first visit to Kruger National Park. And enjoyed many hours watching Giraffe. Our first experience with Giraffe was on our first visit to South Africa, and I think I took about 500 potos of giraffe. They are amazing animals, and the differences in pattern and coloring are stunning. At Kruger we spent a long time watching two young males mock fighting. It was quite fun seeing them slowly swinging their long necks at each other, colliding together, over and over, while the rest of the giraffe ignored them in favor of fresh leaves on the top of the nearby trees.

Val said...

Miranda - Luangwa is special in so many ways and those giraffes are one - and i love nyamalikiti - its got that rhythm :-)

Reya - i still couldnt exactly describe that depth of stare..but i tried! thanks for the inspiration

Tienie and Karen - yes yes - next time come to selinda when we are THERE :-)


Tam - gosh thanks x

Tessa - i love that image of you galloping accross the plains with the giraffe loping gracefully alongside - tis the stuff of dreams. Best of luck with the move!

Normana53 - hello and welcome. a giraffe fight always reminds me of an elaborate dance, combining agression with grace and elegance.

Thanks everyone for your lovely comments - they are the raison d'blog xxxxBlog on and Enjoy xxV

Charl said...

Dear Val
Just spent my lunch hour enjoying your stories, and will read thru the rest of them in the days to follow.
Having spent 13 wonderful years in Pafuri, lots of these stories revive sweet memories of those times. Been living in Central California for the past 8 years.
Have been a huge fan of Keith's work for the past 30 years or so and would like to contact you in this regard. Please e-mail me if you can.
Thanks again for keeping my bush memories alive.
Kind regards, Charl

prashant said...

they are cool indeed! I always loved the fact that the giraffes we get in Luangwa occur there and no-where else in the world. And the Chinyanja word for giraffe is nyamalikiti - animal that goes likiti, likiti, when it runs. Work From Home

Kerry said...

The giraffes we saw in Niger this summer blew me away. Magic.

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