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Giraffes

GIRAFFE (Giraffa camelopardis)

Modified from Wikipedia; original image by
Muhammad Mahdi Karim (2011)

Giraffes are freaky looking super-goats endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and found in zoos all over the world (IUCN). Despite looking like long-neck dinosaurs, they are in fact mammals - you can tell because they have fuzzy skin, and udders.

Appearance

Giraffes look really cool from a distance but up close they are all kinds of weird. They have creepy long tongues like Gene Simmons, and stubby little antlers called ossicones. Why do they bother having ossicones? It's not like they can butt heads with them, and they're too small and dorky to fend off predators. The answer to that question is probably heat release, since they're chock full of blood vessels (Mitchell & Skinner 2004), but that makes them even less likely to be weaponized.

On the other hand, they have cool spotted coats and, unlike the patterning on leopards and zebras, their spots are not totally played out. It is also fun to say "ossicones", so I'm going to give them half a point for appearance.

Points: 0.5/1

Behaviour

Why do giraffes have such freakishly long necks, you may find yourself asking. The obvious answer is that they use them to gobble up the topmost leaves of the trees, opening up a food source that other, more compressed animals can't be fucked to bother with.

But what if I told you that male giraffes use those long necks to swing their heads around like fucking maces and smash each other when fighting for mates? The idea that giraffe neck length is a result of sexual selection gone wild was proposed by Simmons and Scheepers in 1996. They found that giraffes mostly eat leaves on bushes and lower tree branches, and extrapolated that male giraffes with long necks might be sexier to female giraffes.

The idea that long necks specifically evolved for attracting mates has been called into question pretty much ever since the paper was published (because, well, lady giraffes have long necks too) (Nat Geo). Nevertheless, male giraffes still use their necks to beat the ever loving shit out of each other and that's pretty fucking cool.


Another cool thing about giraffes is that, according to an article my mom shared on Facebook (Wired), they emit a sort of humming noise (Baotic et al 2015). Whether or not this is actually used for giraffe-giraffe communication, which is what is suggested in the Wired article, is not clear, but it is nonetheless adorable to think about giraffes humming to themselves.

Because they're absolutely bad ass and also absolutely cute, I award giraffes a point.

Points: 1/1

Distribution

Giraffes are pretty much restricted to one type of habitat - the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa (Giraffe Worlds). The only places they can survive are where it's hot and open, because they don't have thick woolly coats, they lose a lot of body heat due to their size and shape (Mitchell & Skinner 2004), and they're shit at maneuvering in the forest.

This is a bad strategy on their part because it makes them really susceptible to habitat loss. Plus, can you imagine how cool mountain giraffes would look? Sea giraffes? Arctic giraffes? Sure, early humans would have slaughtered Arctic giraffes like they did the rest of the Pleistocene megafauna but what if they hadn't? All I'm saying is that Arctic giraffes would be fucking lit. 

Points: 0/1

Ecology

Giraffes are somewhat picky eaters, with almost half of their diet consisting of a handful of plant species (Berry & Bercovitch 2017). Unlike stupid pandas, though, they have enough variety in their diet that they won't immediately go extinct if their only food source becomes unavailable. They just politely leave other plants for other herbivores to much on, which is incredibly thoughtful. Some people could learn a thing or two from giraffes. You know who you are, motherfucker.

Points: 1/1

Evolution

"What in fuck are giraffes, actually?" I found myself saying one time when I was really drunk. Well, drunk self, giraffes are ruminants - that is, they belong to a group of animals which have more than one stomach compartment so they get to eat their food more than once. To paraphrase xzibit and reference a meme that hasn't been cool since 2007, "hey dawg, I heard you liked food so I put a stomach compartment in your stomach so you can digest while you digest".

This is a really long, drawn out way of saying that giraffes are essentially really long, drawn out goats. To be fair, they were doing the goat thing before it was cool, but right now we're just so saturated with goats that it feels hackneyed.

Another really annoying thing is that nobody can agree on how many species of giraffe there are. According to the IUCN, there's one. According to recent genetic analysis, there are four (Fennessy et al 2016). According to The Book on ungulate taxonomy - aptly named "Ungulate Taxonomy" - there are eight (Groves & Grubb 2011). Get your shit together, giraffes.

Points: 0/1

Life History

You may not know this, but giraffes not only have super long necks, but also super long legs. This means that when their babies are born they have to drop a long-ass way to get to the ground. That's a pretty fucking big design flaw. 


Like... jesus fucking christ... is it dead? You don't know!

Also, I assumed that baby giraffes had a cute name like sprogs or giraffelets or something, but it turns out they're just called calves. Because that's original

Points: 0/1

Interaction with Humans

Unlike the aforementioned Pleistocene megafauna, giraffes somehow managed to avoid being hunted to extinction by hungry hungry humans following the end of the ice age despite being made almost entirely of delicious meat.

That said, assholes have been hunting giraffes for their various non-meat body parts such as their tails (Nat Geo), and for the orgiastic thrill of shooting something that poses literally no threat to you or your family (BBC).

Obviously, hunting giraffes for their meat, hides, and other interesting bits was sustainable for like thousands and thousands of years, because it's only been in the last few centuries (read: since white people started fucking around in Africa in a major way) that their numbers have gone from "okay" to "oh shit". Habitat loss combined with existing hunting pressure is too much for giraffes to handle, apparently, so they're currently listed as vulnerable under the IUCN listings (details here).

Now imagine if giraffes would broaden their range to live in the Arctic, or, hear me out here, start bludgeoning poachers and trophy hunters to death with their weaponized skulls. Then they might be alright. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Points: 0/1

Final Score: 2.5/7
Verdict: Giraffes are just okay, I guess

References


  • Baotic A, Sicks F, Stoeger AS. 2015. Nocturnal "humming" vocalizations: adding a piece to the puzzle of giraffe communication. BMC Research Notes. 8:425
  • Berry PSM, Bercovitch FB. 2017. Seasonal and geographic influences on the feeding ecology of giraffes in Luangwa Valley, Zambia: 1973-2014. 55(1): 80-90
  • Fennessy J, Bidon T, Reuss F, Kumar V, Elkan P, Nilsson MA, Vamberger M, Fritz U, Janke A. 2016. Multi-locus analyses reveal four giraffe species instead of one. Current Biology. 26(18): 2543-2549
  • Groves C, Grubb P. 2011. Ungulate Taxonomy. Baltimore, Maryland: JHU Press. 316p
  • Mitchell G, Skinner JD. 2004. Giraffe thermoregulation: a review. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa: A Colloquium on Adaptations in Desert Fauna and Flora. 59(2): 109-118
  • Muller, Z., Bercovitch, F., Brand, R., Brown, D., Brown, M., Bolger, D., Carter, K., Deacon, F., Doherty, J.B., Fennessy, J., Fennessy, S., Hussein, A.A., Lee, D., Marais, A., Strauss, M., Tutchings, A. & Wube, T. Giraffa camelopardalis (amended version of 2016 assessment).  The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T9194A136266699. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T9194A136266699.en.  
  • Simmons RE, Scheepers L. 1996. Winning by a neck: sexual selection in the evolution of giraffe. The American Naturalist. 148(5): 771-786

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