Monday, August 11, 2014

Reticulated Giraffe

There are nine subspecies of giraffe and we saw three of the subspecies on our trip. The subspecies are mostly differentiated by patterns in their coats. The first subspecies we saw, and probably the most beautiful, was the reticulated giraffe, also known as the Somali giraffe. The reticulated giraffe has polygonal (straight line segments that connect to form a closed chain) reddish brown patches with sharp edges separated by thin white lines. 
Polygonal patches on a reticulated giraffe. Most of the polygons have five sides. 
Reticulated giraffe in Buffalo Springs NR. Beisa oryxare in the background. 
This giraffe dwarfs the oryx.
The patches extend below the hocks in some, and not in others. The reticulated giraffe is native to northeastern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia and as of 2010, there are an estimated 5,000 in the wild and 450 in zoos. The reticulated and Rothschild giraffes may be the most well known subspecies as those two subspecies are the most represented in zoos (by a big margin). 
Six giraffes in one picture. Photo by Steven Shuel.
Photo by Steven Shuel
For giraffes in general, the patches on males become darker with age. Both males and females have ossicones, horns formed from cartilage covered with skin. The ossicones on females and young giraffes are thin and have tufts of hair on top. The ossicones on adult males are knobby and usually bald. Also, as giraffes age a lump emerges on the front of the skull. The lump is more prominent in males. 
This appears to be a male, with bald ossicones and a nice sized lump on the forehead. 
This giraffe also has a nice sized lump in the forehead, seen from a side angle. 
Giraffes browse, meaning they eat continuously. A male giraffe can eat 75 pounds of food a day. They use their massive tongues, up to 18 inches long, to scrape leaves off branches. Their lips and tongues are very tough. One of their favorite foods, acacia leaves, are surrounded by long thorns. They also have very tough hides that are not punctured by the thorn laden trees and bushes they frequent. 
This giraffe partially covered by an acacia tree it is feeding on.
Neck and head extended into an acacia tree to eat.
Five giraffes feeding on one acacia tree.
We saw reticulated giraffes in Buffalo Springs National Reserve in northern Kenya. They were the second significant animal we saw on our first game drive, after beisa oryx. Seeing them was really a thrilling experience. There are some animals we saw a lot of and got kind of inured to. That never happened with giraffes. We never tired of watching them. 
Four giraffes all lined up. Photo by Steven Shuel.
A good view of the mane and tail.
A backside.
There is something about wide open spaces, huge clouds and a multitude of large giraffes that is tough to beat. 
Giraffes do what is known as "necking." Males stand next to each other and swing their necks wildly at the other. In low intensity necking they rub ad lean against each other. In high intensity necking, they spread their front legs and swing their necks attemping to land blows with their ossicones. The winner establishes dominance and gets to mate with the females. 
These giraffes are involved in "necking." This was mild compared to the Masai giraffes we saw in Masai Mara. Photo by Steven Shuel.


  1. I've always been fond of giraffe eyes, with those long, thick lashes.

    Their fight-style for dominate male status is a little scary.

  2. I can't comprehend picking 75 pounds of leaves by mouth in one day. Beautiful Photos.

  3. I loved these reticulated giraffes. They were such a dramatic color, especially set against the blue and green of their surroundings. I felt like I had stepped into a painting.