A giraffe at a watering hole

On my first holiday (i.e. non-research!) trip to Africa in 2016 I was super, probably over, excited to see a giraffe take a drink at a watering hole.


Having waited patiently for the last stragglers of a large herd of elephants to leave, the giraffe cautiously approached the water’s edge, looking around continuously. After a long deliberation, it was eventually satisfied the coast was clear and began to shuffle its legs outwards slowly, a little bit at a time, until finally it stopped with its legs splayed at a wide, steadying angle.


It then bent its knees in a spider-like crouch and finally began to drink.


Occasionally it would lift itself up again if I moved my camera too dramatically, just to be on the safe side.

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The whole experience made me curious about several things, such as; why does a giraffe take such as long time to drink? What are those pale circles on the giraffe’s face? How does it manage with such a long neck?

It turns out that there is a lot of research into how a giraffe actually drinks, including the mechanics of pumping water up its long neck (https://www.insidescience.org/news/how-do-giraffes-drink-water) and how they don’t just pass out (https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/5141/how-did-giraffes-develop-their-rete-mirabile-failsafe).

The slow, cautious nature of approaching a drink is likely due to the vulnerable position such a stance puts the animal in. I had guessed that the giraffe was checking for predators but it seems that the actual actions of lowering into the weird crouch and rising from it takes a while in itself, as it is a bit awkward, so it’s particularly wise to check the area is clear of possible danger before even attempting to adopt the drinking position.

The pale circle of the giraffe’s face is due to an ossification process, and reveals that it is actually a he, and a mature he at that. ‘As male giraffes age, calcium deposits form on their skulls and other horn-like bumps develop.’ (https://animalcorner.co.uk/giraffe-anatomy/).