While we were staying at Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana a few years ago we were very fortunate, late one afternoon, to come across a giraffe birth.
It was the stillness of the giraffe that first got our attention. As we approached she moved slightly and we saw why she stood so quietly. She was giving birth, the front legs and nose of her calf already visible.
As the late afternoon sun beat down a miracle unfolded before us in the arid veld of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. She strained forward suddenly and the calf’s head appeared and then time stood still as we waited for the shoulders to emerge. It was an anxious wait, which seemed to stretch endlessly into the approaching dusk. If we had noticed her predicament, there was every chance that the reserve’s predators would have too. She looked like a young giraffe and we wondered if this was perhaps her first pregnancy. And then, almost as if our concerns prodded fate, two jackals materialised from the scraggy bushes behind her and she moved off a short distance, luckily not very far and still within the range of our camera lenses.
The intruders sniffed the area, lost interest and headed elsewhere to hunt, much to our relief, as Tuli’s jackals can be demons at harassment. She lowered her long neck again as she pushed and almost imperceptibly more of her calf started to show. Suddenly its shoulders were out and then with incredible grace it arched its long body and landed with a plop on the dusty earth in a great whoosh of amniotic fluid.
She licked her new arrival with her long black tongue and nudged it with her nose to encourage it to stand. The calf tottered repeatedly to its feet only to wobble about and collapse in an unhappy heap of shaky knees and trembling limbs. The shadows grew longer as time passed and then in the fading light it finally stood and nuzzled its mother for a drink. We cheered them both, unashamedly emotional.
Some interesting facts about giraffes:
- The name “giraffe” has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word zarafah which means “fast-walker.
- The gestation period for giraffes varies between 400 and 460 days after which a single calf is usually born – rarely twins.
- As, is obvious, the mother gives birth standing up and the new born animal slides out and “plops” onto the ground rather than falling down.
- The mother then grooms the youngster and encourages it to stand, something that is not easy on very wobbly legs, but after a few hours it is capable of running around.
- The species name camelopardalis is from Latin. The family Giraffidae has but 2 species in it – the one is the giraffe and the other the okapi.
- There are 9 subspecies of giraffe: Nubian Giraffe, Reticulated Giraffe, Angolan Giraffe, Cordovan Giraffe, Masai Giraffe, South African Giraffe, Rhodesian Giraffe, Rothschild’s Giraffe and West African Giraffe.
- Fully grown giraffes are 4.3–5.7m tall, the males being taller than the females- the tallest recorded male was 5.88m and the tallest recorded female was 5.17m.
- Both males and females have prominent horn-like structures called ossicones, which are formed from ossified cartilage, covered in skin and fused to the skull at the parietal bones.
- A giraffe has only two gaits – walking and galloping.
- Giraffes have an extremely elongated neck, which can be up to 2–2.4m long.
- The ossicones, which have lain flat while it was in the womb, become erect within a few days.
- For the first 1–3 weeks, it spends most of its time hiding, its coat pattern providing camouflage.