Africa's Gentle Giants
Evocative and unmistakable silhouettes - even by those who’ve never seen them. Quintessentially African, giraffe can reach 5.3 metres and weigh over a ton. They are ungulates (meaning ‘being hoofed’) and, like a camel, move with a lateral gait - both front and back leg supporting the whole weight at the same time. Most other four-legged animals move with a transverse gait pattern - opposite front and back legs working together.
It’s always something of a surprise coming upon them here in this most arid of deserts. Our horses, alert to their presence, stretch their - not as long - necks in watchful fascination as the Namib giraffe promenade elegantly by with that curious lateral gait. While most books on mammals will tell you Giraffa camelopardalis occur in dry savanna woodland one might wonder what they are doing out here in this desert….yet, there is more to said desert than meets the eye of the casual observer.
Image below of our campsite in a dry wash in the central Namib desert shows an astonishing amount of Acacia trees (beloved of Giraffe) in so dry a landscape. Spreading like sinuous veins across the landscape, dry washes have underground water available for trees with long tap roots.
The curious name camelopadis might derive from the Roman’s assuming this animal was a cross between a camel and a Leopard - seems an unlikely cross though. Also the Arabic ‘xirapha’ meaning ‘one who walks swiftly’ and that fits well, as cover ground they do! Graceful and elegant out here in their natural habitat, it is perhaps their lack of ‘charisma’ that failed to impress the crowds in the the Roman Colosseums. Yet these fascinating creatures exemplify a touching gentleness - particularly towards their young.
Giraffa.c.angolensis - the giraffe found in Namibia, is actually thought to be extinct in Angola, from whence that nomenclature derives.
Highly adapted to living in deserts, giraffe are able to harvest condensed coastal fog off leaves and, as a result, don’t need to drink that often. Watching them remove the tiny acacia leaves from amid impressive thorns with their incredibly long tongues is an experience never forgotten.
Along with Elephants and rhino, giraffe significantly change landscapes - opening up areas for other browsers and stimulating new growth. Giraffe serve as pollinators of some acacia species as ingested seeds are dispersed in their droppings - which are surprisingly small for so large an animal, indicating digestive proficiency also seen in camels.
The Giraffe Conservation Foundation is the first ever long-term ecological monitoring of giraffe in Africa. Collecting and disseminating information, they work in close partnership with local communities towards a sustainable future for giraffe in the wild.