WHY SUCH A LONG NECK?
My oldest son loves Giraffes. I think they are very cool as well, but I kept telling him that they are not endangered. As all my readers know, I typically write about endangered animals because they need more attention. Nevertheless, he insisted and I agreed. So today we are going to talk about the Giraffe. What I read, as I researched this wonderful animal, was a surprise to me and I hope you will learn something too.
When I begin reading about the Giraffe I came upon a startling revelation (surprise). The population of the Giraffe has dropped dramatically since the count of 140,000 in 1999 (giraffeconservation.org.) Current population estimate, taken by the IUCN*, is 80,000 animals. This fact tells us that the Giraffe may not be endangered according to the required factors, but it certainly is in trouble. Efforts by the IUCN are underway to determine a more accurate count of the Giraffe population, and what they need to do to insure that the numbers do not decline further. One important fact you need to understand is that this population count includes all of the subspecies of Giraffes. There are nine subspecies of Giraffe and two of those subspecies are endangered. So I learned something I didn't know before - and that's a good thing! :-)
The name Giraffe comes from the Latin ‘camelopardalis,’ which means ‘camel marked like a leopard.’ That makes sense to me. The blotches on their fur help to camouflage them while they are feeding in the dappled sunlight beneath the acacia trees.
Poaching, human population growth, and habitat loss continue to have an effect on the Giraffe’s numbers on the continent of Africa. The map you see below shows the populations of subspecies of Giraffes. The populations are fragmented and this is also a contributing factor to its decline. If the populations are fragmented, which means separated, then Giraffes can't get together to produce more offspring.
Photo Credit – IUCN
Of the nine subspecies, two are actually listed as endangered, so this blog post is indeed about an endangered animal. The two endangered subspecies are, the Rothschild Giraffe, and the West African Giraffe. However, we will not focus on these two endangered species. We will talk about Giraffes as a whole since they all have similar biology and physical characteristics. The subspecies are different from one another in terms of their fur patterns and slightly different coloration. You can see the different patterns and color in the below illustration, and where those fragmented populations live.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Can you identify which Giraffe wears the below pictured fur? Use the illustration above to help you decide.
The coloration of the Giraffe is mainly for camouflage. However, it is also used as a cooling mechanism. Beneath the patches of color on their fur, is an intricate network of tiny blood vessels that help to cool the animal by releasing body heat.
Photo credit: giraffeconservation.org
So lets talk about some of more interesting characteristics. First the obvious; the Giraffe has a very long neck. The male, or bull as they are called, can reach a height of 19 feet high with the neck being about 8-9 feet of that length. Although their neck is the longest of all animals, they still have the same amount of bones that humans and other mammals have in their necks. J
Photo credit: pagersource.com
So why do they have such a long neck? Evolution has favored, over thousands of years, the Giraffe with the longer neck. That longer necked Giraffe was able reach the leaves on a tree that other animals could not. It became a characteristic that helped the Giraffe to survive and produce more Giraffes with longer necks. This change was a slow progression, which resulted in the long necked animals we see today.
Not only does their long neck help them reach their meal, they also use their superior height to keep an eye on their surroundings. They are very tall sentinels (lookouts), watching for predators across the African savanna (plains).
The males have developed a ritualized ‘necking’ behavior, which helps them to establish dominance over other males. They butt heads and wrap their necks around their rival with powerful swings. They aim for their rival’s neck and underbelly to deliver intense blows until one of them backs down. These blows can be so strong that their impact has been known to knock an animal unconscious.
A Giraffe has a very strong, long tongue. Not only is it strong and long, it is also blue and prehensile (able to grasp). The tongue can be 18-20 inches long and the Giraffe uses it to twist the leaves off of the tops of trees. It has been suggested that the dark color of the tongue protects it from the sun. Umm…
The Giraffe likes to eat a lot of leaves and can consume up to 95 pounds of leaves in a day. They like acacia trees, as well as many others. Their grazing and ‘trimming’ of the trees on the African savannah has actually caused the trees to grow into a very particular shape. The video I have found for you will explain this in a bit more depth. Giraffes get most of their moisture from the leaves they eat. As a result, unlike many other mammals in Africa, the Giraffe does not migrate and it lives in loose social groups.
Here’s the video I promised!
For more information on this spectacular animal, visit the following sites:
My thanks to ARKive.org for some of the information and pictures.
Thanks also to all my readers for visiting. Hope you enjoyed this week’s post and that you’ll return again next week.
*IUCN = International Union for Conservation of Nature
Jeanne E. Rogers, Author
The Sword of Demelza, an Award Winning Adventure Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages