Life at the top

You can never mistake a giraffe – or forget her. She’s been on our planet for well on millions of years and, although her shape has changed to suit the times, she’s holding her own and still operating – literally – at top level. (We refer to the feminine as our Tops Giraffe is a female).

Like human fingerprints, the markings of a giraffe’s coat are unique to each individual. The patterns act as camouflage to confuse potential predators, while the giraffe’s acute vision and towering height help it to anticipate dangers from afar – little wonder, this unmistakable inhabitant is known as the periscope of the bush.

It is interesting to note that giraffe groups appear to change quite often and that even the very young are sometimes found far from their mothers. Strangely, they seem to have little family feeling and are very different from say the elephant or gazelle, who fight tooth and nail to protect their young. 75% of young giraffe disappear before they are 6 months old, most are taken by predators but how many die because of neglect by their mothers? A young female stays in her mother’s home range, but young males form all-male “clubs” and wander away at about 3 years old.

Bulls within an area have a recognised pecking order established by ritual neck-wrestling when they are young. When two adult males are fighting in earnest, venting their emotions, they engage in the spectacular “necking” routine that sounds like rifle shots from afar. Their facial expressions indicate intense stress with tails lifting and curling sideways as the tension mounts. The impact of the head and “horns” (not true horns, but exostoses from the skull) causes tremendous thumping until one is forced to retreat. No wonder the male skull is very strong to withstand this ordeal.

It is commonly thought that giraffes do not have a voice but they can speak. There is the bleat, for instance, and the blow and the snort. Each sound has a different meaning.

A herd on the move can be likened to rocking-horses, slow-motion, set on the softest of springs. Karen Blixen, the great author, who left her heart and spirit among the Ngong Hills of Kenya, once wrote this about the giraffe:

“A giraffe is so much a lady that one refrains from thinking of her legs, but remembers her as floating over the plains in long garb, draperies of morning mist and mirage.”

“Tops Giraffe has a Sore Throat” by Sue Hart is available as an ebook and audiobook from Amazon or iTunes, and as a short film from the App store.