In my relatively short stint as a guide at Londolozi I have been witness to some remarkable sightings already, but maybe none as bizarre as a pair of mating giraffe.
It all started with some excellent skills from expert tracker, Jerry Hambana, when he spotted the Finfoot female leopard lying beneath a Guarri thicket. The young female leopard was stalking a herd of impala that were grazing in an open area in the northern section of Londolozi. To the leopard’s misfortune a dazzle of zebras caught scent of her and alerted the impala of her presence, sending them out of her reach.
A daughter of the Nhlanguleni female, born into a litter of two, both of which survived to independence.
As she settled back down again I looked into the distance and noticed two giraffes step out from the thicket into the clearing. After having a closer look through my binoculars I could see that it was a male and a female. The male was sticking very close to the female, following her when she walked and resting his chest on her rear whenever she stopped. He was obviously interested in mating with her. I pointed this out to my guests.
Jerry explained that he had only ever seen giraffe mate twice in his 36 years at Londolozi and that even though the male pursues the female for hours – sometimes for days on end – the copulation only lasts for a second. Soon everybody on the vehicle was more fixated on the courtship ritual between the tallest land mammals than the leopard who was now resting in the shade.
We moved closer and watched this fascinating interaction for over half an hour as the male followed the female around like a shadow. At one stage the male bent over and tasted the female’s urine which is how the male can tell whether the female is in oestrus/a reproductive state, which she clearly was in due to the male’s persistence. (For more detail on how giraffe are attracted to one another read Rich Laburn’s post on “How Giraffe Mate” ).
On many occasions the male tried mounting the female but each time he was unsuccessful as she took two or three steps forward, meaning that he missed his chance. This behaviour – which if you will allow me to label ‘playing hard to get’- is the female’s way of maximising the chance of a more dominant male in the area to pick up her scent and displace the current suitor so that the strongest genes are passed on. Just as we decided that we would watch one more attempt and if the male was unsuccessful we would carry on with our afternoon the male leapt forward, catching us and perhaps even the female by surprise, and finally succeeded in mounting her for just long enough to copulate.
It was an amazing spectacle to see such tall, bulky animals perform what seemed like an impossible task and we all revelled in the giraffe’s success by marvelling in hushed tones and giving each other high fives. Jerry was not wrong at how brief the encounter is but thankfully my guest, Sabrina Davis was at the ready and captured the moment that is so rarely witnessed.