"How Old is That Giraffe?" and Other Tall Stories

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The giraffe is one the most common animals of the African bush and it's easy to take them for granted. They really are very interesting creatures and a natural wonder all in themselves.


Their extra-long legs and neck, patchwork hides and knobbly horns make them an enigma of the bushveld. As a result, our guests always have plenty of questions about these ungainly beasts.

Here are some of the answers:

How old is that giraffe?

It is difficult to tell the age of a giraffe just by looking at it, especially if it is alone. Up to a point, the larger a giraffe is, the older it is. Males generally tend to become taller than females at the age of 6 years old. Females only reach maturity at 6 or 7 years old, so it is unlikely that they will be seen nursing a calf before that.

Scientists have recently discovered that Thornicroft's giraffes (known also as the Rhodesian giraffe) tend to become darker as they age. No studies have been conducted on South African giraffes as yet, but the older ones do appear to be slightly darker.

The most reliable way to tell a giraffe's age is by studying its teeth. They wear down with age just like horses' teeth do. Although this can be difficult to assess in a live wild giraffe!

How do giraffes drink water?

The truth is. Nobody knows. We know that they have to stretch their legs out and bend down from a great height to do so. We also know that their jugular veins have stop valves in them to prevent blood from rushing to their heads when they drink.

How they get water up that long neck though? Scientists speculate that giraffes are capable of creating a plunger-like effect with their mouths, throats and tongues to push the water up to their stomachs. They are still, however, trying to figure out how to prove this.

We'll keep you posted.

Why do Giraffes have such long necks?

The obvious answer is 'to browse the tops of trees', but their long necks more likely evolved so that they could compete better for females. Giraffes fight by necking each other with these long appendages, so in the battle for a mate, a longer neck is better.

We prefer the Shona tale. This tells how Giraffe, which originally had a short neck, stretched up to better hear God's instructions just after Creation. Pleased with this diligence, the Creator rewarded Giraffe with an extra-long neck to reach the juiciest tree-top leaves.

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Saturday, 16 December 2017