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.