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Giraffes’ Long Necks Are For Fighting?

Jan 17, 14 Giraffes’ Long Necks Are For Fighting?

Giraffes’ long necks are primarily for fighting, not reaching higher leaves for food. Or so says the Discovery Channel/BBC production Africa, which captured intense footage of two giraffes fighting. I saw the clip on ABC News. The giraffes whip their necks at each other, landing blood-curdling blows. The loser ends up motionless on the ground, while the winner walks away with large, open wounds.

The footage is pretty fascinating, if brutal, because we tend to think of giraffes as graceful things. They are known for having a bit of a temper, but are not really considered to be one of nature’s more aggressive creatures.

The idea that their necks are ‘for’ fighting is slightly questionable, in my inexpert opinion. What the male giraffes are actually fighting with is their horns, or bumps if horns is too grand a word for the mini weapons on their heads. Whatever the correct term, it is those that they are hitting each other with, just as many other animals do, by thrusting their heads. Seeing as giraffes have long necks it makes sense that they would utilise the momentum that swinging them can create. However, it seems unlikely that the necks would have evolved purely for that purpose, when other creatures that fight with horns enjoyed no such evolution.

This argument is backed up, though I say so myself, by the assertion made by experts who saw the clip that this practice is usually quite a benign affair. It is more of a ritual, a display, and severe damage is rarely done. In the case of the fight in the footage, there was a lot at stake; an old, dominant bull was being challenged by a younger upstart in order to take control of a territory. The winner would rule all (not least the females in terms of importance), while the loser would be exiled, condemned to walk the African vastness alone. Such a ferocious encounter is rare, though.

As well as the long standing theory that giraffes have long necks in order to reach higher leaves to eat, it is thought that a major advantage or possibly even a cause of their evolution is that they need to roam vast areas to find food but still communicate with and see each other. Having such an  elevated head allows them to do this.

There was, it seems, a lot of excitement about this clip from this documentary. Capturing such moments in nature is difficult, but in this case the difficulty came in part because it is such a rare event. We may assume that just because we have some cool new footage we don’t need to completely change our beliefs in everything giraffe. But hey, who am I to question the discovery channel.

Rare event or not, I also found out that when giraffes do serious do combat, it is no holds barred. These photos from British photographer Ben Coley show two giraffes high kicking each other, published in the Daily Mail. This is pretty interesting and informative of some giraffe behavior. But did they develop legs simply for kicking? One would have to say no!

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, is currently available on Amazon.com.
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