Photograph of the week: Social distancing in the giraffe world

During a safari in Northern Tanzania this group of giraffes (called “a tower”) was observed strolling through the Ndutu Plains. The Ndutu Region forms part of the northern section of Ngorongoro Conservation Area and stretches to the unfenced southern reaches of the Serengeti National Park, a meeting point between these two incredible wilderness areas. This section of the park is made up of rolling grasslands peppered with alkaline lakes that attract flocks of flamingos, as well as acacia woodlands. A big draw of the Ndutu Region is to see the full circle of the Great Migration, from the return of the herds to graze in December, and then the calving which takes place in January and February. The area is famed for its short grass plains which grow grass which is particularly rich in nutrients and sustains the migratory animals whilst they have their babies. You can also go off-road in Ndutu, which makes game drives even more exciting!

It is advisable to set out early to go look for the migration and for predators that come along with the herds, since that is when they are the most active, like most other animals, too. Since they aren’t very hard to find, this group of giraffes (called tower), slowly making their way through a swampy area, stood out immediately. With their long, swaying necks, distinctive pattern on their furry coats and those endless spindly legs, giraffes are some very odd-looking creatures when you really think about it.

Giraffes are the tallest mammals on earth. Their legs alone are taller than many humans— about 6 feet! A giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground, so it has to awkwardly spread its front legs or kneel to reach the ground for a drink of water. This makes them very vulnerable to predation, so you have to be lucky to see them do this. They spend most of their lives standing up – they even sleep or give birth standing up, but sometimes you find them lying on the ground as well (only if they are super relaxed and know that they aren’t any predators around!). A giraffe calf can stand up and walk after about an hour after birth, and within a week, it starts to sample vegetation. Giraffes only need 5 to 30 minutes of sleep in a 24-hour period! They often achieve that in quick naps that may last only a minute or two at a time! Their spots are much like human fingerprints – no two individual giraffes have exactly the same pattern.

The giraffe is, in fact, the national animal of Tanzania, which has introduced strict laws to protect this endangered creature. Vast herds of the Maasai giraffe, which is East Africa’s most widespread species of giraffe, can be spotted roaming the Serengeti. They are common in the Serengeti where they are sometimes found in groups of 40 plus. The actual group in this photo had many more members than seen in this frame, and it is fascinating to watch them interact with each other. At one point, they started galloping along the water sources, which was a spectacular sight. After a while, they decided to line up in a queue – a perfect motive for this perfect shot! Definitely one to remember, especially since giraffes are at risk in their natural habitat due to a number of factors, including poaching and destruction of their ecosystems and habitats due to increased human activity and habitat changes.

In the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, giraffes have recently had their listed status changed to ‘vulnerable to extinction’ – their numbers in Africa have dropped hugely by around 40% in just the last three decades alone. Specifically, the Masai giraffe has lost half of its numbers in the last 30 years, and now only around 32,000 are remaining in Tanzania and in southern Kenya. It is almost impossible to imagine an Africa where these beautiful giant creatures don’t roam the savannah. By displaying their beauty we can all raise awareness and support conservation measures to minimize their risk of further extinction and instead ensure the future safety of the Masai giraffe.

Nature is awe-inspiring!

Thank you to Denise Brown from Sababu Safaris for permission to share the photograph.

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