We Underestimated Giraffes’ Social Lives


Giraffes seem to be on top of everything. They float over the savannah like two-story hermits staring at war from behind those long eyelashes. For decades, many biologists thought giraffes were extending this treatment to their peers, and with a popular wildlife guide to call them “remote” and can only conjure up “most mundane” connotations.

More recently, however, a different social picture has begun to emerge as experts pay more attention to these tall icons. Female giraffes are now known to have fun for years. bonds. They have lunch buddies, keep watch over dead calves and stay close with their mothers and grandmothers. Females even make communal daycare-like arrangements called nurseries and take turns in these arrangements. babysitting and feeding each other’s youth.

Zoe Muller, a wildlife biologist who has completed her PhD, said observations like this have reached critical mass. at the University of Bristol in England. He and Stephen Harris, also of Bristol, recently reviewed hundreds of giraffe studies to look for broader patterns. their analysis, Published on Tuesday The journal Mammalia suggests that giraffes are not alone, but are socially complex creatures similar to elephants or chimpanzees. It just digs into this a little more.

Dr. Muller’s perception of giraffes as secret socialites began in 2005 while researching his master’s thesis in Laikipia, Kenya. There he found himself drawn to ganglier hooves to collect data on antelopes. “It’s so strange to look at,” he said. “If someone were to describe them to you, you wouldn’t even believe they really existed.”

Dr. After realizing that the same giraffes tend to spend time together—“they looked like teenagers hanging out,” Muller said—she began reading about their lifestyles. “I was really surprised to see that all the scientific books say that they are completely unsocial,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, wait. That’s not what I saw.'”

In an ecosystem populated by bugle elephant matriarchs and fast-paced cooperative lion prey, it’s more difficult to detect the complexities of giraffe sociability, said Kim VanderWaal, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who studies them. Giraffes do not communicate in any way obvious to uslead quiet social lives, free from visibly pathetic behaviors such as grooming or cooperative territorial defense. The use of digital cameras that help track people by dot pattern, and social network analysis, which can reveal hidden association patterns, made it easier to reveal their relationships.

Dr. The giraffe society appears to be built around strong pair bonds, particularly between mothers and their cubs, that unite into kinship groups, Muller said. watching women standing close to the body of a dead calf for days, giving up food and water, Dr. She went home for Muller and said “how strong affiliations can be within a group”.

But compensating for their broken reputations has been difficult, he said.

For this latest article, he and Dr. Combining all the evidence, Harris reviewed more than 400 studies. The result is a “solid scientific review” and supports the idea that “giraffe societies are much more complex than most biologists think.” to work.

It also reveals a number of avenues for further research. While reading the studies, Dr. Muller noticed that female giraffes tend to be past their reproductive years already. in other socially complex animals, including humans, and killer whalesPost-breeding individuals provide wisdom and care, helping the younger generation to thrive.

This phenomenon called grandma hypothesisDr. Muller said it should be tried on giraffes. If this is true, since old giraffes are often culled or hunted trophy. It will also provide further evidence that giraffes exist. experience sophisticated forms of friendship. Dr. Muller said the existence of these calf care nurseries could qualify giraffes as collaborative breeders like beavers or bush jays.

Others are more careful. Not involved in the research, Dr. “Giraffe social structure is complex,” and researchers are just beginning to understand this, VanderWaal said. “I think more research is needed before we can conclude that giraffes live in cooperative societies.”

But they all agree that we should keep stretching our necks until we get a better view. Dr. Muller said giraffes are “one of the most recognizable animals in the world.” “And we’re just starting to scratch the surface.”


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