World Giraffe Day
21st June 2018
Giraffes are commonly regarded as one of our most elegant, regal and peaceful creatures. They are our tallest mammal with a remarkably long neck and very long legs – often over 6 feet in length. Giraffes roam the African plains and are surrounded by very real danger. As well as the tests of everyday life giraffes also have a number of unique biological challenges.
A giraffe’s heart weighs in at 11 kilos in comparison to a human’s which is just 0.2-0.45 Kilos.
Giraffes have a very special adaptation to allow their veins to function when their limbs are so long. NASA scientists have used this special adaptation to enable astronauts to cope in space where their veins become weak in an environment of weightlessness. Using the technique identified in giraffes the astronauts can support and exercise their veins so that they can function correctly when the astronauts return to earth after their mission.
Drinking is also a real problem for giraffes. To reach the water level the giraffe must spread it’s legs and this leaves it extremely vulnerable to predators. To reduce the time when giraffes are so exposed they have adapted to receive most of their water from the plants that they eat. This means they need to drink less often and usually they do so just once a day. When giraffes do visit a water hole they can drink up to 10 gallons at one time. Young giraffes – who are probably the most vulnerable during drinking, manage to actually avoid lowering their heads at all and use fluid extremely carefully to avoid this dangerous activity. Giraffes do not sweat or pant and their body temperatures fluctuate according to the temperature around them. This allows the giraffe to conserve more water than other mammals in a similar situation.
Giraffes appear to be very elegant and somewhat slow. However, in walk with their long strides they actually move at about 16 km an hour – quite a lick. At a gallop they can cover the ground at remarkably fast speeds, outpacing humans and many horses with readings of up to 56 km an hour having been recorded. Stamina is the main problem with such galloping and the giraffes long wind pipe definitely handicaps it when it comes to such speed.
Giraffes do communicate with each other often snorting or hissing. However, their noises are often lower than the human ear can pick up, which explains the widespread belief that Giraffes are silent.
Aggression, Defence & Protection
Giraffes look somewhat defenceless but in fact they are competent adversaries. Their legs can kick in all directions and they have very sharp hooves. As a rule, giraffes are rarely bothered by predators.
Giraffes are often pictured ‘necking’. Although this might look friendly it is actually a sort of fight and it allows the giraffes to test each other and see who is the stronger. Such bouts of activity can last up to 20 minutes.
Giraffes do not groom themselves and to keep themselves insect and parasite free they secrete chemicals from their skin. Over the years these secretions build up and giraffes can smell quite unpleasant to humans. Oxpecker birds also help here, foraging for insects on the giraffe’s body and helping to keep it free from parasites.
Males must taste a female’s urine in order to sense whether they are ready to mate. This unusual behaviour is known as ‘flehmen’ and the female giraffe actually urinates into the mouth of the male. When the female is receptive the males compete to ‘out push’ each other in order to be the dominant male and win the right to mate.
Giraffes also have amazing tongues. Up to 20 inches long the tongue is coloured bluish, black to protect it from the rays of the sun. The tongue is extremely versatile and sensitive and is used for eating, personal grooming and all manner of other activities. The giraffe’s upper lip is also prehensile and is used with an almost hand like dexterity in its daily life.
Giraffes have the most magnificent spotted coats which certainly afford them wonderful camouflage on the savanna lands of Africa. The patterns are individual to each species and each giraffe also has its own unique pattern, a little like our finger prints. Groups of giraffes also tend to have similar markings and this helps to identify the group.
Every single creature on earth is uniquely adapted to life on earth. However, giraffes capture our imagination and our attention with their size, beauty and elegance and they exemplify to us all, the power and amazing ingenuity of mother nature ……
Deborah Boyd-Moss IDEAS & THOUGHTS On behalf of PLANET EARTH