Waking up to a Giraffe

The sun has just started to rise, peeping its head above the horizon, and with it, the dawn chorus starts to sing. This sound gently stirs me from my sleep.

I can hear something moving around my tent, it’s too big to be the Nyala that sometimes sleeps nearby. I know that whatever it is is large, so I wait in anticipation. My mind initially thought elephant, but it doesn’t sound right and then I see her through my tent flaps, a beautiful female Giraffe.  It’s nice to see her back. She normally hangs around the camp in the late winter/ early spring before she disappears back into the reserve where we will only catch the odd glimpse of her.

‘’However; much you know giraffes, to see one in the wild for the first time feels prehistoric.” – Jane Goodall

Photograph © Emma Summers

So how can I tell she is a female? It’s simple I just need to look at their ossicones (horns). The female Giraffes ossicones are thinner and covered with hair but as the males use them to aid in fighting theirs are thicker and the tops are almost always bold. These horns aren’t horns at all but rather ossified cartilage covered in skin and hair. They are born with these ossicones, however; at birth, they lie flat and are not attached to the skull to avoid injury at birth. They will fuse to the skull as they get older. This female is unusual as one of her ossicones is bent backward making her easily identifiable when you see her around the reserve.

She is so close to my tent I can see her scars. My mind starts to wonder about how she could have received them – was it something innocent and she received them as she pushed her way through the tress or was it something more sinister like a Lion attack? I also notice a fresh injury on her front left knee. Although her knee injury looks painful, she is moving around ok and not really bothering her, although I do imagine that it is painful. These scars remind me just how tough nature can be and how lucky we are.

Photographs © Emma Summers

I always love the way giraffes look at you. They always look at you with a mixture of curiosity and interest.  This is a look that they master from a young age. These towering mammals remind you just how small we are. Their legs are around 6 feet long making them longer than the height of most people. When they stare at you, from such a great height, I always wonder if that is how an insect must feel when we look at them.

It always makes me smile when I think of a part of their scientific name Camelopardais which means camel leopard why? They have beautiful spotted coats that are unique to each Giraffe hence the Leopard part and they have a Camel like shape hence the name.

Camelopardalis Constellation

Did you know that there is a large but faint constellation in the northern hemisphere called Camelopardalis, the Gariffe and it was introduced by Petrus Plancius around 1613 so it is considered a ‘modern constellation? In the Southern hemisphere, in traditional African bush lore, the Southern Cross is actually a Giraffe, who helps to guide the sun along the sky, making sure that it never gets lost. Once you have imagined the Southern Cross as a Giraffe, it’s hard to see it as anything else.

Photographs © Emma Summers

We have now had 40mm of rain and the trees are starting to develop their leaves. I get to sit there and watch her long, dexterous black prehensile tongue pull the new tender, nutritious leaves off the trees without damaging them. Giraffes prefer to feed on Senegalia and Vachellia (formally Acacia) trees.

As she moves away, I get out of my tent. I bump into her again in another part of the camp, feeding on the trees around the students’ tents. She is strangely chilled around people. We do have to be wary of her as she is a big animal and will kick in self-defense but as long as we make sure that we give her space, that she always has an escape route and she isn’t blocked in she is happy to carry on feeding and let you admire her beauty.

Selati Camp l What you can expect

Take a virtual walk through the EcoTraining Selati camp and the majestic vistas that encompass this incredible game reserve. Selati Game Reserve is situated between the towns of Gravelotte and Mica, west of Phalaborwa, in the Limpopo province of South Africa, the reserve has an area of about 30,000 Ha.

About The Author

Written by Emma Summers

Emma Summers is an EcoTraining Camp Manager at Selati Game Reserve.