February 2021
Bush Stories

The story of a young giraffe

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The story of a young giraffe

George David Tolchard
By George David Tolchard
Head Guide

Serengeti giraffes will usually give birth within their home range, often returning alone to a similar area to give birth each time they calve. It must be quite a shock for the young giraffe as it bursts into this world and drops from its standing mother at a height of two metres to hit the earth beneath! The young giraffe is usually up on its little hooves within 20 minutes and can be nursing within a couple of hours. 

It is incredibly important that the mother keeps the youngster well-hidden during these early stages for the calf is vulnerable to predation at this point. The young giraffe may spend a large amount of time hidden in thickets out of sight from predators moving around in the area. The mother is never too far away, keeping a watchful eye out on her calf as she continues to browse on the surrounding trees and shrubs.   

After a week to ten days you may find that the young giraffe will return to the safety of its mother. There may well be other giraffe cows that have also given birth to youngsters of a similar age. At this point it is possible for a maternity group to associate closely with one another, as seen in this picture above. There were eight youngsters of similar age within this nursery creche observed on the Sabora drainage, just south west of Sabora camp. The youngsters observed were of ages between two and eight weeks, and on the younger calves an umbilical cord was still visible which usually suggests the animal is younger than 3 weeks. At around this time the umbilical cord eventually dries out, hardens and drops off. 

Notice the skin folds beneath their necks - like a puppy with plenty of skin to grow into! Both animals are alert with ears cocked in our direction. The smaller calf at the rear has one ear pointed at us and the other still tuned in to what is going on behind it… Their eyesight is excellent and as they grow tall, the combination of height and superior vision makes for quite a set of specialised adaptations. Giraffe will often aid us in the field when looking for big cats. Observing their behaviour from far away may show you exactly where lions are as they stare intently, ears cocked forward, a nervous swish of the tail… 

Looking again closely at these youngsters you cannot fail to notice the lovely tufted ossicones. The ossicones are what we call the giraffes “horns” and they are, in fact, structurally different to a horn as in other species. Amazingly the young giraffe is born with these ossicones, however, they are flat to the skull and in the early stages of development slowly fuse in the upright position to the skull. As the animals mature you will find that the males tend to lose the hair on the tops more so than the females. 

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