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The Graceful Giraffe

These magnificent beasts are such a beautiful sight, with their long spindly legs, their dappled coats and necks stretching up into the tree tops, making them the tallest mammals in the world.  The tallest giraffe recorded was 5.88m but on average they stand between 4 to 5m tall. Their patchy coats correspond closely with the colour and arrangement of the Acacia branches and thus are well camouflaged in these woodlands that are their preferred diet.   Generally, the colour of the patches start off lighter in calves and darken with age, and tend to lighten towards the legs which are usually whitish.

The Giraffe is yet another example of the ingenuity of Mother Nature, with that long neck and the pressure of gravity you would think it almost impossible for the blood to flow all the way to its head! But with a blood pressure of double the readings of normal terrestrial creatures, and with about 150 beats per minute, this life giving juice can reach the brain along almost 2m of artery!

The horns on a giraffe’s head are present in both males and females with the females being distinguished by their fluffy tops and the males usually having bald tips.  As babies, they start off as soft cartilage and with age the horns solidify into bone.  The males use these protrusions when fighting, swinging their heads on their long necks and bashing them into the sides of their opponents to wind or knock them off their feet.

The social structure of a giraffe is normally casual, with herds or journeys being made up of females and their young.  A male will visit a herd for a few days and then move on, being a solitary creature for most of the time.  Gestation periods are about 450 days and a calf at birth weighs about 100kgs and stands just 1.5m tall.  Not much can beat doing a horseback safari through the Zimbabwean bush and being able to get within 5m of these amazing animals, to be able to see their long eyelashes, and long leathery tongues as they expertly strip a thorny acacia branch of its delectable leaves.

On a safari to Hwange or Gonarezhou you are very likely to see these tall loping creatures in amongst the acacia trees, but disturbing reports are surfacing recently that these beasts should be moved to the vulnerable category.  An extract from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species states that the population has declined by 36-40% over the last 30 years, with populations in 1985 of the Giraffa camelopardalis species being about 160,000 and in 2015 falling to 97,500!!   Their decline is due to habitat destruction and poaching, as their tail in the local cultures, being a very strong talisman.  It will be a very sad day indeed when these towering creatures aren’t seen in the bush anymore and only in zoos.  Humans have a lot to answer for concerning the destruction and degradation of this beautiful world that we call home.

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