There is a story that has been passed on from several generations of rangers at Londolozi about a guest that repeatedly kept asking a ranger whether giraffes eat meat:
Guest: “Is that giraffe going to eat those impala lambs?”
Ranger: “No, giraffes are herbivores. They will not eat impala. Ever.”
Guest: “Is that wildebeest going to be okay with that huge giraffe so close? Surely it’s going to attack and eat the wildebeest?!”
Ranger: “As you can see, the giraffe is using its long tongue to pull the leaves off the tree. They are strictly browsers that eat leaves only. They are definitely not going to attack the wildebeest, or any other animal for that matter…”
As the vehicle rounded the very next corner, a giraffe raised its long neck up from the ground. It had a large chunk of bone in its mouth. “I thought you said giraffe only eat leaves!” exclaimed the guest, angrily. Nothing the ranger said could have saved herself in that moment…
The phenomenon is referred to as osteophagia, which literally means, to eat bones. Giraffe have been recorded chewing on bones more so than any other wild animal. There are several reasons for this, but one main one: the ratio of skeleton to body mass is much higher in giraffe compared to similar sized mammals (ie. they have a high total bone mass compared to body mass). In addition, they have a fast growth rate. Both of these points mean that giraffe require high levels of calcium and phosphorus.
Calcium is derived from the leaves that giraffe eat. Phosphorus is not as readily available, particularly in winter. Thus, as much as we jump to the conclusion that giraffe are supplementing their calcium intake by chewing and swallowing bone fragments, it is in fact an effort to maintain the ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
Osteophagia is much more common in winter when plants are not as nutrient rich, but it has been observed year-round. Simply put, giraffe are upping their mineral intake through eating small pieces of bone, driven by a deficiency of those minerals.
The irony in this series of images is that the giraffe clearly don’t know what species the bone upon which they are chewing is derived. Let’s just say that a pride of lions enjoyed feeding on a giraffe in that exact spot a few years ago…
Filed under Wildlife
I have seen giraffe , on more than one occasion adopting exactly the same stance and method when eating pods from a sausage tree
Very interesting and well explained. And cool pictures, especially the video clip at the beginning of the article.
Interesting blog Pete.
Great blog today Pete, thank you. That is definitely something I didn’t know and I always appreciate learning something new, I’ll certainly look out for it in the future.
I watched a documentary on Ruaha: over there there was a lion pride that killed giraffes. When an individual found a co specific bones it observed it slowly, sniffed at them, turned them up and down. Perhaps it realized it was one of its species… who knows. It actually didn’t chewed it but showed interests – alike you see in elephants, hippos, cheetah and lions etc. Also hares in winter time sometimes eat co specific bodies in order to get minerals and other nutrients; for the same reason deer sometimes eat small birds .Very interesting, I truly admire and love giraffe. Thanks for the news on these amazing animals.
Thanks for the new information, Pete. I never knew this or saw the behavior. Instinct is amazing!
Interesting read. I would live more posts about giraffes, I feel like know little about them but find them super interesting.
Fascinating Pete but certainly makes sense. Had to laugh at the thought of a giraffe eating a giraffe bone though ! Thanks again 🙏🏻💕
I’ve found this a fascinating addition to their diet. One would suppose its augmenting their calcium level but I never considered phosphorus. I’ve seen this once in SabiSand…..
Pete, I did know that giraffes eat bones🤗
what sort of teeth do they have !?
A very interesting blog Pete, thank you for sharing. You certainly do learn something every day until the day you die. I didn’t know that about giraffes, but it does make sense because of their extremely large skeletal system and poor nourishment in the winter months. Thanks again. Take care, be well and stay safe evryone.
Was this on the ground in Londolozi called Ilkley Moor Bah Tat ?
You will have to look it up , though many British guests will understand
Wow, this is utterly fascinating! Brilliant how nature, in this case, giraffes, intuitively know how to get the nutrients they need to survive, and hopefully, thrive! Thanks Pete!
Wow that is bug news,thanks for the sharing
Pete, Thanks for the education! We have never seen that happen, but your explanation makes perfect sense!
I have seen giraffes eating bones, but I thought it was the calcium they needed. Never thought of Phosphorus. Thanks for the explanation, Pete! Wendy M
I think I witnessed this once in Botswana.
very powerful and enlightening giraffe presentation.appreciated