Much Ado About Giraffes

It never ceases to amaze me just how much tourists love giraffes, and I reckon that it is highly probable, based on this love, that in a previous life time Justin Bieber could well have been a giraffe (although a quick Google search proved that it is also highly probable that I am the only person that thinks this). After lions and leopards (and depending on nationality, tigers too), giraffes have to be one of the most frequently requested animals my guests wish to see, and this was backed up by a recent book I read stated that giraffes were the most photographed animals in the Kruger Park! But I have one question, ‘why?’

Okay, before I get going on this rant and start receiving hate mail for dissing giraffes, I do want to make it clear that I don’t hate giraffes, in fact, I love giraffes (although I could never eat a whole one). The problem is, they do remarkably little with their lives. I know that this point could be argued for almost any animal out there, most notably lions and teenagers, but giraffes just seem to be so exceptionally good at passing time doing nothing. Have you ever just watched giraffes and paid attention to how much time they spend just standing there, staring blankly over yonder, as if the thought of deciding what to do next with their day is just too much for them? Although, in fairness to giraffes, if my next move did involve walking to the closest thorn tree and subjecting my enormous tongue to the wrath of more piercing thorns, I don’t think I would be in the biggest hurry either!

Giraffes also have a habit of popping up at the most inopportune times; guaranteed, if there is an exciting sighting (like sleeping lions) that a guide needs to get to in a hurry, a journey of giraffes is bound to pop into view, and as bad as my eyesight is, not even I can miss a giraffe. As it would be sacrilegious to simply drive past them, one stops, and stares at them staring back at you, chewing occasionally. And I just know, that behind those long eyelashes guarding their dark eyes, there is a wicked sense of humour brewing, and somewhere along the line the giraffe must chuckle to itself and think “I wonder how long I can make these hominids sit and stare at me?” Truth be told, I do end up spending an awful lot of time staring straight back at them.

This is the point where I do have to concede, that as little as giraffes do (have you ever seen a full documentary made about giraffes? The answer is probably no, as 45-minutes of the show would be of giraffes standing there, chewing), they are such incredible animals that no pause to watch giraffes chewing is ever a short one. Be it discussing their unique anatomy, the omnipresent oxpeckers clambering around on their spotted hides, the balding osicones of the males (which make me feel a lot better about my receding hairline), or the fact that almost no reference book ever agrees just how long their tongue is – surely it can't be that difficult to use a tape measure? Their strangeness ensures that there is always a lot to say about giraffes.

But the thing that comes up most often has to be, why on earth are their necks so long? This can spark a debate between the lengthening of the neck as a means of reaching food at a level that other browsing species cannot, to avoid competition, versus the need to have a long neck for fighting, whereby the longer the neck of the male, the more adept he is at simply clobbering his opponent. Both theories have their merits, and both seem plausible depending on who is telling it to you, but I think both are just far too complex.

Surely, the most logical explanation has to be that if giraffes didn’t have such long necks, when we stopped to look at them, everyone would soon realize how little they did with their lives and simply drive on. Not only would this lose them the record of being the tallest animal in the world, but it would also dismantle them as “the most photographed animal in Kruger”, and no self-respecting giraffe would ever let that happen!

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