Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Giraffes - A tall drink of water

The continent of Africa still retains a population of large animals.  Working with those animals will become increasingly important.

They all need to be integrated into agricultural modalities on every continent.  That has usually meant promoting one subspecies against clear competitors. Thus we see an obvious future for moose, caribou and red deer. The rest is not so sure.

Africa has the big ones and all that requires formal shepherding to work properly and all that demands successful mind to mind communication as has already been demonstrated.   We now also understand mob grazing as well.  all this makes the prospect quite enticing with a substantial increase in direct output as we have already discovered elsewhere.

..  .

A tall drink of water

Clocking in at nearly 20 ft (6 m) in height, with purple prehensile tongues that can reach 18-20 inches (45-50 cm) in length, and feet as large as dinner plates, giraffes boast science-fiction like proportions. Despite their size, their doe eyes, knobby knees, and largely vegetarian diets contribute to their reputations as gentle giants.

Giraffes have also been the target of trophy hunting since the European colonization of Africa, and big-game hunters who shoot giraffes, along with other large mammals like lions and elephants, have sparked widespread controversy online and on Twitter. The governments and organizations that sponsor hunting safaris argue that they fund conservation efforts. 

And conservation is an increasing concern. Since 1985, some giraffe populations have decreased by as much as 40 percent, with fewer than 100,000 in existence today. The most stable populations reside in protected national parks and reserves, but seven West African countries have lost all of their wild giraffes. Are conservation efforts in proportion to the challenges giraffes face? Let’s stick our necks out.

By the digits
the number of wild mature giraffes in the world
60 liters: Volume of blood pumped by a giraffe’s 24-lb (11-kg) heart every minute, the largest heart of any land mammal
16-20: Hours a day a giraffe must eat in order to support its large body
50%: Share of giraffes that survive their first six months of life in the wild
35 miles per hour (56 km per hour): Top speed for a running giraffe
10-15 years: Typical lifespan in the wild
9: Known subspecies
15 months: Length of a giraffe pregnancy, with approximately two-year intervals between births
REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Explain it like I’m five!
Why are giraffe populations in decline?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified giraffes as “vulnerable,” and in August of 2019, new international regulations were enacted to protect giraffes against poaching by limiting the trade of giraffe products, which had previously been unregulated. 

Whether sold legally or by poachers, demand is high. About 10 years ago in Tanzania, where giraffes are a national symbol, there was an uptick in herbal medicine practitioners touting giraffe bone marrow and brains as a way to protect against or even cure HIV/AIDS—a wholly false claim that bumped the price of certain bones up to $140 each. Their long swishy tails are also coveted for some traditional doweries. The Center for Biological Diversity reports that between 2006 and 2015 21,402 giraffe-bone carvings, 3,008 giraffe-skin pieces and 3,744 giraffe hunting trophies were imported into the US. 

While poachers, who have reportedly used the social media accounts of tourists to track wildlife, remain a threat to giraffes, habitat destruction is another serious challenge. Huge swaths of natural giraffe habitat have been used for agriculture and development. These losses have been exacerbated by lengthy droughts, leading desperate giraffes to graze on farmers’ crops, making them pests to communities. As more natural and man-made barriers narrow the paths of traveling giraffes, their choice of mates has been limited as well.

Over the next decade, Africa’s human population is expected to boom, escalating the rate of land development and likely further endangering giraffes. The past few years have padded giraffe populations with new protections, and some groups, like the giraffes in South Africa, have flourished, but elsewhere on the continent, their numbers could fall even more precipitously.

This one weird trick!
The heart of the matter

A giraffe heart is engineered to battle with gravity: The walls of the left ventricle are incredibly thick, beating at an emphatic three beats per second, pumping blood through the giraffe’s body and up its lengthy neck to its brain. This cardiac engineering specially dilates and constricts to manage the sudden change in blood pressure when a giraffe lowers its head to drink, protecting it from brain damage—and a massive head rush.

A giraffe’s entire body is designed to keep blood moving. The skin ringing their legs is thick and tight, like a compression sock, built to maintain the pressure necessary for blood to pump back up to the heart against the force of gravity—a design that has been studied by NASA and applied to space and anti-g suits worn by pilots. 

As a giraffe keeper can tell you, they are a flighty bunch and one kick–accidental or not–will be the end of you!” 

Origin story
Spotty research

Weirdly, we just don’t know that much about giraffes. “Despite their prominence, giraffes have been significantly understudied in comparison to other charismatic African mammals,” Zoe Muller, a wildlife biologist, told Researcher Axel Janke told National Geographic that only about 400 scientific papers have been published about giraffes, compared with thousands about the white rhino. This lack of baseline knowledge has made conservation efforts more difficult.
A 2018 study from researchers, including Muller, from the University of Bristol, found that the size of giraffe social groups is not influenced by the number of predators in the area. “This is surprising, and highlights how little we know about even the most basic aspects of giraffe behavior,” Muller wrote. There is still some disagreement over how many distinct subspecies of giraffes exist, and their social and family structures are not well understood. We also don’t know why they hum at night.
Have a friend who would enjoy our Obsession with Giraffes?

Brief history

46 BC: Julius Caesar brings a giraffe—known as a “camelopard”—to Europe for the first time.
1414: A giraffe is gifted to the Yongle emperor in China from the King of Bengal.
1600: The modern English version form of the word “giraffe” appears, derived from the French “girafe.”
1786: The first scientific paper on giraffes is published.
1826: The French king receives a giraffe as a diplomatic gift from Egypt, inspiring fashion trends.
1950s: Dr. G. Raffe becomes the mascot of Toys “R” Us, later to become Geoffrey the Giraffe.
2016: The giraffe genome is sequenced.
2017: Rare white giraffes are spotted in Kenya.
2019: The US Fish and Wildlife Service begins an official review to determine if giraffes should be listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. 

fun fact!
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Wild Nature Institute are using machine learning to sort through digital photographs of giraffes to identify and track individuals by their uniquely spotted coats.

Watch this!
Giraffe fight

Like pool noodles of pure muscle, giraffes fight with their impressive necks, brandishing them with frightening force. Playing to their assets, giraffes slam and slap their necks together as they attempt to throw each other off balance. 

Person of interest
Anne Innis Dagg

Anne Innis Dagg was the first Western researcher to undertake a behavioral study of wild giraffes. Known as the “Jane Goodall of giraffes,” Innis Dagg began her research in the 1950s and wrote the seminal book on them, The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behavior, and Ecology, in 1976. “You can’t be a giraffe researcher unless you’ve read her book,” Fred Bercovitch, zoologist and executive director of the Texas-based group Save the Giraffes, told Canadian Geographic

Innis Dagg had to slog through years of degrees, doubts, odd jobs, failed applications, and flagrant sexism to publish her work. After her inaugural research trip to Africa, she earned her PhD with plans to teach, but each time she applied for positions she was overlooked. Innis Dagg made do with other work, continuing to write about giraffes on the side, and eventually published more than 20 books. She was profiled in a recent documentary titled The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.

Aaron Fulkerson

Mais oui! C’est Sophie

Made from natural rubber that takes several months to cure, Sophie the Giraffe is a ubiquitous baby shower gift for American parents. Invented in France in 1961, Sophie has become a class symbol for American parents who can shell out $25 for a chew toy. Deborah Netburn looks at how one toy came to represent a parenting philosophy for the Los Angeles Times.

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