Friday, February 7, 2014

In a recent article we touched on the giraffe’s serious drinking problem, it’s surprising speed, and it’s lethal hooves. We also referenced its unusual spot patterns of which, no two, on a giraffe or between giraffes for that matter are the same. What we haven’t yet shared is how a baby giraffe literally falls into the world and why the giraffe has an interesting (some would say bizarre) tongue. What’s more, it has more than one stomach. In fact, it has four. And what of the giraffe dance? What is it and why is it performed?

Stand up fellows

A giraffe hardly ever lies down and when it does it’s for relatively short periods of time. Mostly, it performs activities standing up, including sleeping and giving birth. Owing to exceedingly long legs, a female’s young falls approximately five to six feet to the ground at birth. But a newborn is a hardy little thing and learns to stand within half an hour or so. It isn’t uncommon to see a newborn running alongside its mother a mere ten hours after birth. By two months old it can chomp on leaves and by six months it’s somewhat independent of mom. Would that rearing a human infant was that simple. While fairly self-sufficient, a young, growing calf is still vulnerable to predators. Sadly, experts suggest that only a quarter of giraffe infants survive beyond their first year. Size helps though and certainly matters when one considers that a young happy, healthy giraffe grows as much as an inch (2.5 centimetres) a day. The larger it gets the less it’s vulnerable to would be predators.

Black and blue

The giraffe’s tongue is decidedly long; so long in fact, it could clean its own ears. At 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 centimetres) in length, it ranges in colour from blue to black. The tongue as well as the upper lip is prehensile, which in normal speak means it’s well adapted for plucking or holding foliage. It’s tongue is a fabulous tool for manipulating leaves and shoots into its mouth; really handy when you consider that the giraffe eats virtually non-stop.

Difficult to stomach

A giraffe is ruminant, which means it has more than one stomach. In fact, it has four or rather a four-part chamber stomach, which aids the lengthy digestion process. Food is ingested, chewed and regurgitated twice before swallowing – a fairly long process for a clump of leaves. It chews the cud as it were, much like a cow.

An enduring mystical symbol

Revered by many cultures for its noble appearance and strength the giraffe is firmly entrenched in various traditional cultures. Historically, in Southern African San culture, the giraffe dance is performed to cure head ailments and to encourage good hunting. How the giraffe came to be so tall is the subject of many a traditional African folk tale. Ultimately, the giraffe is humble, and, except for the occasional grunt, rather quiet. In spite of the fact that modern belief systems have diminished somewhat the importance of many ancient cultures and traditions, the giraffe has managed to survive as a mystical, regal symbol, and deservedly so.

See: 6 Fun and Fascinating Giraffe Facts

Images courtesy of Jan Van Huyssteen.

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