Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Safari In Tanzania: Part 2: The Maasai Giraffe

Maasai Giraffe                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016

       The National Animal of Tanzania, The                           Magnificent Maasai Giraffe

       I have seen giraffes at various venues in the United States, and though I always thought them magnificent, I was not prepared for how incredibly magnificent they would be here in Tanzania, their natural environment:

Giraffe Eastern Serengeti                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016 

Giraffe Facts:

1.  There are nine subspecies of giraffes. 
      (The one featured in this blog is the Maasai Giraffe)          
2.  They are the world's tallest animal.

3.  Just as the white pattern on the tail of the           humpback whale is unique, so too are the markings on any giraffe.
4.  You can easily distinguish male from the           female by looking at the head.  The two horn-like   growths or ossicones are larger on the males and smooth at the ends.

       Here is a male:

                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016        
5.  The females, who are smaller, have tufts of hair on their ossicones that look like upside down old-fashioned shaving brushes.  Below is a female calf sporting hers:           

                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016    

6.  A cow (female giraffe) gives birth to her six-foot, two hundred pound baby standing up.  Clunk!           
7.  You can also tell how dominant a bull giraffe is by how dark his dappling. (I have no idea what the biological mechanism is for this.)  So the fellow on the right would be the boss of the one on the left.  But the bull pictured above the baby photo, being taller, would dominate both.


8.  Sadly, up to seventy-five percent of giraffe       babies are killed by predators, usually hyenas or lions, in the first months of their lives.

9.  Giraffes need only five to thirty minutes of sleep every twenty-four hours.  Like horses, they can sleep standing up, but they also sometimes lie down, tucking their heads over their hindquarters. 

10.  Giraffes only have seven vertebrae in their
necks enabling tremendous flexibility when eating, fighting, or stretching down to their young. (We humans have five.)

11.  In a number of my photos you will see tick birds on the giraffes.  They not only eat ticks but a number of other annoying parasites.  They also sound an alarm when predators approach.

12.  To keep their twenty-two pound heart from     pumping too much blood up top when they lower their heads, a network of valves keeps the amount steady.

13.  Bull giraffes intertwine and push each other     around with their necks.  In doing this they determine who is stronger, and usually before there is any real whacking, one bull will yield and walk off.  This behavior is referred to as "necking" (a different definition than the one I knew growing up in the '60s.)

14.  A herd of giraffes is appropriately referred to   as a "tower" of giraffes.  Here is one such tower, aligned in a defensive pose because we were getting too close for comfort:


                 They weren't terribly upset, however, because they simply left:


       Are giraffes in danger?  Currently, the world's oldest and largest conservation network, The International Union For Conservation of Nature or IUCN, classifies the giraffe as "least concern," with the exception of the Rothschild giraffe, which it lists as "endangered."  Indications are, however, that the "least concern" category may soon need to change. 

        Like western medical researchers, witch doctors, particularly in Tanzania, also seek to advance their studies to deal with current medical issues.  Many have recently declared that meat from a giraffe's head, as well as marrow from its bones, can cure HIV.  One in eight Tanzanians have HIV, so this is bad news for these calm, sweet creatures.  

       While giraffes are occasionally hunted for their meat, there has been a marked increase in poaching for two reasons, the HIV "cure," and poachers who are living in the bush poisoning or shooting elephants for the illegal ivory trade. Giraffes, so large and defenseless, are easy targets and supply quantities of meat so the poachers can eat well while decimating elephants.  

       Here are two darling babies.  The guides told me they were around eight months old.  They made it out of infancy, so let's hope the government of Tanzania continues to ramp up the fight against poachers so they can live a poacher-free life:


                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016

                                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 216

Natural Giraffemanship?

       In my last entry I hinted that I had tried Natural Horsemanship techniques to the giraffes
at our first Nyumba in the Eastern Serengeti.  I was half-joking, of course:  a giraffe's legs are so long it would simply step out of a round pen even if one magically appeared on the savanna.  I did say, however, "half-joking":  what I did do was manage to approach them as if I were a fellow prey animal rather than a predator.  

       As many of you already know from other blog entries, as well as from personal experience, predators can be identified by their eyes, which are in the front of their heads, as well as by the way they approach their prey.  They move in a straight line and slowly creep, at all times keeping their eyes on the prize.  When they know they are close enough, they explode as if shot out of a cannon and the chase is on.   

       Because we too are predators, whether trying  to shoot with a gun or a camera, we approach an animal in the same way.  We think that by creeping slowly forward we won't scare the creatures we are pursuing.  Our equivalent of going from stalking to exploding is the report of a bullet or the sudden click and whirr of a camera.

      A few years ago I did have an experience applying this to a semi-wild animal--a young male deer here in Acton.  A woman in the next town over raised a fawn as a pet.  Habituated to humans, she became an adult and gave birth to a male fawn who also received the woman's attention.

       I don't know what became of the fawn's mother, but I do know about the baby.  I met him when he was nearly full grown at the local gun club where my son now and again shoots trap.  Looking for food, the little fellow showed up at the club where its members, deer hunters themselves, fed him.  Since someone was always shooting, the deer became not only habituated to gunfire, he recognized it as a dinner bell.

      I thought I might be able to get him to follow me into my horse trailer if I used the Natural Horsemanship approach and retreat method.  I would take a few indirect steps towards him, my eyes down, then retreat.  I then repeated this. After about fifteen minute he allowed me to stand by his side and stroke his neck and shoulder.  Then the magic happened.  When I walked off he followed me.  When I stopped he stopped.

      I never did get him into a trailer.  It would have taken the cooperation of the gun club members, who rightly kept repeating it was against the law.  Also, I didn't know where I could drive him that would keep him safe.  At the time I wasn't aware that loading a deer in a confined space could be the death of it.  If severely frightened, a wild animal can and frequently does die of what is called "broken heart syndrome." Catecholamines, a variety of stress hormone, release into the bloodstream causing the skeletal and cardiac muscles to break down, often resulting in death.  

      The deer continued to show up at the gun club but then he came no more.  One day, as I was riding on a trail about a mile away from there, I saw him.  He was dead, too ravaged by coyotes to tell if he had been shot by hunters.

       However, having had modest success with this poor little guy did give me the courage to try the approach and retreat method with the Serengeti giraffes.  Trying to get near to these grand creatures, nineteen feet tall, felt daunting.  I was also walking a bit away from the tents, something we had been counseled against doing. Well, I wouldn't walk that far away.

       I approached a bull who was munching the top leaves of an acacia tree.   I cast my eyes down and walked on a diagonal, stopped, backed up, and repeated my approach on a different diagonal:

        After a brief pause he walked around the tree, continuing to wrap his long tongue over the leaves, managing to avoid the terrible thorns.  He looked at me with his beautiful calm eyes and then resumed munching:

I watched him for quite a while before ambling closer:

                                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016

       He was soon joined by a compatriot.  I was quite close, so I could aim my camera up at those gorgeous curious heads:

                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016   

      I wondered what would happen if I sat down on the grass.  The larger bull came out from behind the acacia tree and walked towards me:

Then closer:


      Okay, that was close enough to those powerful legs and neck.  I stood  up.  He thought it close enough, too, because as soon as I stood up:

(Dressage people, don't you think that's the start of a lovely pirouette?  A giraffe walk is a pace with two legs moving on one side then the other two legs on the other side.  I didn't get to see a trot, but this bull's canter had plenty of suspension. )

       Discretion, it was decided by both of us, was the better part of valor: 

      I returned to my husband who had been watching my interactions with the giraffes and was on the verge of asking a guide to hop in 
a Land Rover to retrieve me.  After a lovely dinner I had a lovely sleep.   My hope is that every day and night will be without fear for these magnificent, gentle animals.  I know that is a vain wish and unlikely, but it is my hope:

       My next blog entry will focus  on the Maasai I met, their history, customs, and how they are navigating the changing world around them.

       Thanks you for reading The Windflower Weekly.

       See you soon --





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