Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Giraffe's Sad Tale

Occasionally the African bush tells a sad, sad story. On one of our Mala Mala game drives we came across female a giraffe and her calf. The female was browsing on an acacia tree and the calf was trying to nibble a smaller bush nearby.  On closer inspection we could see that there was something wrong with the calf. His lower jaw was hanging open all the time, it was apparent that he was unable to close his mouth, making feeding impossible.

Then we noticed deep and extensive scratching around his throat. It seems he had been attached by a lion. The predator had seized the calf by the throat - the usual way of dispatching prey, closing off the windpipe and thus suffocating the animal fairly quickly. However, on this occasion the mother must have been close at hand and attempted to rescue her calf, raining powerful kicks on the lion with her front legs. The lion reluctantly relinquished his prize under this assault, but it seems that one of the mother's desperate kicks had landed on her calf's jaw, breaking it irreparably.

Giraffe calf with damaged lower jaw and deep scratches
 on his throat caused by a lion attack.

As we watched, the calf gave up with his bush and tried to suckle instead but his mother kept moving away, not allowing him to feed. It's likely that would not have been able to suckle in any case with such a badly damaged jaw.

Two large male giraffes then appeared on the scene and began sniffing at the mother's rear end, tasting her urine with their long tongues. They evidently decided that she was in in oestrus and was ready to mate again.  Instinct told her that her calf would not survive and her body began producing hormones so that she could prepare for the next calf.

The two big males, the mother in the centre and the calf
trying to browse on the bush. 

Meanwhile, she would not waste valuable resources feeding the her injured offspring who had no chance of survival. And yet there were tender moments between mother and calf that made the scene all the more heartbreaking. She would bend her great neck and gently lick and nuzzle him. It was as if she was trying to explain to him that although she loved and cared for him she would have to let him die. It was just the way things were.


  1. awe, that´s very very sad :( (though, that´s life, I guess)

  2. you've made us all teary Billy. Nature is harsh, but never as cruel as humans.