One would think that stumbling into Africa’s apex predator out in the wilds would be reason enough to head the other way, yet the innate curiosity of giraffes almost makes them appear to have a morbid fascination with lions when they see them, and they will often approach to what seems to us like a recklessly close distance.
To be fair to the local giraffe population, they don’t currently have as much to fear from lions as they did in the past; most of the current prides hardly feature giraffe in their diets, and it’s been a long while since the Sparta Pride numbered over 20 and were killing giraffes on a semi-regular basis.
Opportunity is still the name of the game for lions though, and they will take down a giraffe when they get the chance, but currently on Londolozi, smaller (and safer to hunt) prey species like wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck and impala are so plentiful that it isn’t really worth risking a cracked skull or shattered jaw from a giraffe’s kick.
A few weeks ago the Styx pride were found on a wildebeest kill in the north-western parts of Londolozi. Guy Brunskill responded to the sighting slightly later in the morning and while watching the lions feed, suddenly noticed movement just over the crest.
A head on top of a long thin neck slowly started coming into view, followed by another, and then another. A journey of giraffes had heard the commotion made by the lions, and had come to investigate. The ground was very open so the giraffes had a clear view of the pride, and given that the lions were already in engaged in feeding, they represented virtually no threat to the tall ungulates.
The giraffes came closer and closer, eventually standing about 40 metres away, silently watching. Although giraffes aren’t vocal creatures like kudu or wildebeest that will give off loud barks or snorts when they see a predator, they will make soft alarm sounds; it’s almost like someone trying to blow out a candle. You have to be pretty close to them and listen carefully to hear it.
Giraffe necks are so long that it is difficult for them to generate sufficient airflow to produce vocalisations, but research has shown that they hum to each other at very low frequencies. This humming has mainly been recorded at night, so might simply be a communication means that works as a substitute for anything visual.
Whether they were humming or not in this sighting would have been hard to tell over the noise of the lions feeding and growling at each other.
Although giraffes haven’t been featuring as regularly as they once did on the local lion population’s kill sheet, it goes without saying that a sighting like Guy and his guests enjoyed would almost certainly have been limited to daylight hours. It is doubtful whether giraffes would actively approach a kill site out of curiosity during the darkness.
Bigger prides mean more hungry mouths to feed, and with the Ntsevu pride consisting of six big females and 12 growing cubs, and the Styx pride being seen more and more frequently in the north, it might not be too long before the lions start turning their attention towards bigger meals, and the long-necked, overly curious kind might be just what the next iteration of the menu requires.