Ranger Diary

February 2016


Ranger Report

February 2016

Compiled by Bertus Potgieter

 

In this months report I have decided to share with you some rather interesting and fascinating facts I came across about our tallest resident on the Pongola Game Reserve, namely the Giraffe.

 

Mating and Flehmen

The mating rituals of giraffe are rather complicated, because female giraffe refuse to mate during the entirety of their pregnancy, which lasts 15 months. Between pregnancies, the females are ready to mate with a suitable male, but only for a brief period every two weeks.

So that the male giraffe can keep track of the times when the females are available to mate, they have developed a behaviour called flehmen, in which the female giraffe urinates in the male giraffe’s mouth. This rather strange-sounding procedure is actually perfectly practical—the female giraffe’s urine tastes different when she’s ready to mate. So unless a particular taste is present, the male giraffe knows to leave the female alone. If the female is ready to mate, the males will scuffle around her while she waits demurely for the strongest one to dispatch the competition

 

Giraffes and NASA

Giraffe and space travel don’t seem like an obvious mix, but they have actually contributed quite a lot to our travels in space. Weightlessness has always posed a number of problems to the human body. One of the most significant issues is the weakening of leg veins. Since the blood flows differently in space, the circulatory system of the legs doesn’t have to put in so much work in order to pump the blood back up. The veins get lazy, thin, and weak, which can pose serious problems when returning to Earth.

Giraffe have provided a solution to this problem. Baby giraffe learn how to stand almost immediately upon birth, thanks to their rapidly inflating leg veins. When NASA observed this, they were able to create the Lower Body Negative Pressure process. It’s a device that consists of an airtight tube that seals around the astronaut below the waist and applies vacuum pressure, thus rapidly expanding the leg veins and making blood rush into the legs and pelvic area. When this pressure is applied at regular intervals, the astronaut’s leg veins stay in shape.

 

The Drinking Problem

Because giraffe are built the way they are, drinking can pose serious problems for them. To get to water, they need to spread their front legs and crane their neck down at an awkward angle, a position that leaves them clumsy and vulnerable to predators such as crocodiles.

Giraffe deal with this very real drinking problem in a number of ways. Their digestive system can obtain almost all the water they need from the plants they eat, so the adults only need water once a day. Young giraffe, being the most vulnerable, are the most efficient at this, to the point where they often don’t need to drink water at all. The reason they’re able to do this is that giraffe are extremely economical creatures when it comes to liquids—they never sweat or pant to cool down, like most mammals. Instead, they allow their body temperature to fluctuate according to the temperature around them, enabling them both to conserve water and to keep cool in any situation.

 

Combat Skills

With its ridiculously unbalanced build and fast gallop, it’s easy to assume the giraffe is ill-equipped for defending itself and runs away when predators are near. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Giraffe are well-versed in the art of self-defense, to the point where even lions only dare to attack them in large groups (and then only when they’re desperate). Giraffe legs are powerful and heavy, and each of them ends in a hard, sharp, 30-centimeter (12 in) hoof. A giraffe can kick in any direction and in a manner of ways, and its kick can not only kill a lion, but actually decapitate it.

Unsurprisingly, very few predators bother an adult giraffe.

 

Necking

Many of you have probably seen pictures of two giraffe gently rubbing their necks together. It’s an adorable image that gives the impression of intimacy and companionship, and as such it has been used on many a Valentine’s Day card.

This practice is actually far from friendly—it’s closer to locker room wrestling or even actual fighting. It’s called necking, and it’s usually done by male giraffe as a test of strength—the giraffe bang, twist, and rub their necks together to see which of them is stronger. Although they seem cute, these fights are quite taxing and can last up to 20 minutes.

Still, the Valentine’s cards are right in one respect—even brutal necking can sometimes turn erotic, though female giraffe are not involved. Sometimes, the test of strength arouses the male giraffes so much that they just drop the fighting and move on to. . . other things.

 

Magic Mouth

Giraffe have a prehensile tongue approximately 50 centimeters (20 in) long. The tongue is colored bluish-black to protect it from sunburn, and the giraffe uses it much like an elephant uses its trunk—it grasps things with it and uses it for personal grooming, such as picking its nose and cleaning its ears. The snake-like tongue is especially useful for obtaining food—the giraffe can just wrap it around the foliage and yank it into its mouth.

The mouth itself is no less strange. The giraffe’s large upper lip is also prehensile, which gives the mouth an almost hand-like dexterity when combined with the tongue. The insides of the mouth, along with the lips and the tongue, are completely covered with hard, finger-like papillae to protect it from thorns and nasty gashes.

 

Egyptians and Caesar’s Giraffe

With their forceful kicks and enormous height, one might assume a giraffe would make a poor pet. Ancient Egyptians thought otherwise.

As early as 2,500 B.C., Egyptian rulers captured giraffe and paraded them in front of their subjects. Hunters found giraffe fairly easy to transport on a raft down the Nile, so they could provide a steady supply of these exotic animals. Giraffe were so impressive and regal that the Egyptians started giving them as presents—and passive-aggressive examples of their power—to the rulers of other countries.

The most famous recipient of a giraffe gift was none other than Julius Caesar, who was most impressed by the present. He named his new prize animal “cameleopard,” because he thought it resembled a cross between the two species. He paraded it home for the whole of Rome to admire. And then he stuck the poor animal in a circus arena and fed it to lions to show his power.

Moral of the story—you don’t become the emperor of the most powerful nation in the world by being a particularly nice person.

 

Giraffe Fur

The most striking feature of giraffe, apart from their necks, of course, is their magnificent, spotted coat. The intricate patterns of the fur are not only individual to different subspecies—every single giraffe has a unique pattern, much as with human fingerprints. Curiously, the patterns also function as gang signs—giraffes from the same area tend to have similar fur patterns.

When you look underneath the coloring, the giraffe’s fur is even more impressive, if by “impressive” you mean “repulsive.” Because giraffe are pretty bad at grooming their bodies because of the length of their necks, they secrete chemicals from their skin and coat to repel insects and disinfect the skin so that fungi and bacteria cannot grow. Sadly, this chemical cocktail leaves their skin smelling fairly unpleasant to humans. Some older giraffe are so completely saturated with the smell that the local people call them “stink bulls.” It is said that you can actually smell them up to 250 meters (820 ft) away.

 

These are just a few of the many weird and wonderful facts there are about giraffe.

Hopefully you have all learned something new about these magnificent creatures!

 

Greetings until next time

Pongola Game Reserve and her entire team.