On Shamwari Game Reserve we are fortunate to have many different species from the tiniest little ant to the big and strong elephant. Each species and animal is unique to his role in the natural system. Each animal helps keep the balance in nature with their day to day life. From an owl catching a mouse for supper to the springbuck grazing on the sweet new grass after the rains. So what is the purpose of a strange but gorgeous looking animal like a giraffe?
Well, if you look at the body structure of a giraffe they are bizarre looking with their long legs and neck. But what would be the reason for this adaptation? A giraffe is so tall in order to get to the juicy leaves at the tops of trees where no other browser can get to. The older and taller giraffes will go for the tops of the trees and will never run out of food because there is no other animal, except sometimes elephants, who can reach these areas of the tree. The shorter giraffes will eat around the lower areas of the trees where they trim the trees daily.
Giraffes are highly adapted for their role in the natural system. Let’s look at some of the problems and solutions in the body design of a giraffe:
· Long legs will swell up from gravity pushing blood down to the feet. Solution: The skin on their legs is very thick and tight, keeping the blood circulating and not stretching the skin to cause swelling.
· Blood circulation through a huge body, against gravity and providing all the organs with enough blood to function properly. Solution: A large heart (up to 12kg in adult males) to pump blood through the body. A selection of valves prevents sudden pressure changes, which could cause damage to organs.
· Feeding on trees which are protected by spikes or spines. Solution: The tongue of the giraffe can get up to 45cm long and coupled with the dexterous upper lip, manipulates branches to allow the tongue to get in between the thorns and strip the leaves. The thick, slimy saliva, tough upper palate and rough horny projections on the inner lips also help cope with the pricks of the thorns.
· Grooming and getting rid of parasites. Solution: They make use of a bird called the oxpecker to eat off the ticks from their bodies. The birds will move all over the giraffe’s body to feed off the ticks, from the legs all the way up the neck and even in the ears.
So next time you are lucky enough to see a journey of giraffe, take some time to think about what an amazing design these animals really are. The long-necked beauties of Africa!
By Jone’ Fick