One Tall Drink of Water

By Mike Appelbaum

It’s a beautiful day and just perfect for you to join me on our morning game drive.

It appears that this small herd of giraffe was on a mission. They were walking along a game trail adjacent to the Sand River here at Mala Mala (my favorite private game reserve in the greater Kruger National Park of South Africa). Since they were ignoring the many trees that lined their path it was obvious, they had something else in mind. We (see, I’ve already gotten used to you coming along) know that they probably spent the earlier part of the morning having breakfast. No doubt eating the leaves off other acacia trees (very carefully using their 20-inch tongue as they avoid the 3″- 6″ super sharp thorns). Best guess is now they’re looking for a safe place to get a drink (that idea sounds too familiar, lately).


Giraffes standing

As they lead us to this waterhole we keep our distance and avoid disturbing them. While they don’t need water every day this is the situation where giraffe are on high alert and must be extremely cautious.  You see, their wonderful height advantage in food gathering from trees becomes their Achilles heel when trying to drink water. Even with all their height the neck of a giraffe is still not long enough to reach the water.

One Giraffe at waterhole


They must spread their front legs so far apart to reach the water that this position leaves them literally defenseless. They also have some issues with their incredible blood pressure, but thankfully mother nature has provided their heart with the necessary valve system to avoid problems.  This is when the giraffe is most vulnerable to being attacked by a predator (primarily lion). Once again, thanks to good old mother nature the giraffe instinctively knows this….and so does the lion. Giraffe can easily be spooked at this time, so we are careful to observe this amazing behavior without interfering. The one weapon that the giraffe has for defense is the immense power of their kick. No kidding, I really mean powerful. Even a poorly placed kick can immobilize a big male lion and a well place kick can be the last thing that lion ever sees.

Giraffe feet at waterhole

Take a good look at those 6′ long legs and 12″ dinner plate sized hooves. At 2,000 pounds of force per square inch Twiga (Swahili word for) could kick a football from Miami to Dallas. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, giraffe can kick in ANY direction (front, back, sideways). Giraffe are not normally dangerous and are among the most beautiful and interesting animals in Africa. As with all other wild animals you should always be cautious around them (just in case you see one roaming around The Villages) There is much more to share about these wonderful animals so we will be re-visiting them on future game drives. Thanks so much for coming along today, but right now I’ve got to get this Land Rover back to camp before lunch.


“Safari Mike”

16 thoughts on “One Tall Drink of Water”

  1. It was interesting to learn more about giraffes. I have always thought of them as one of Gods more interesting creations.

    1. Gail, you are so right about interesting creations. In fact the more you know about them the more interesting they become. I’ll have more posts and photos of giraffe with additions unique facts and images of them. They are wonderful photographic subjects and are never disappointing. So many giraffe stories…Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you’ll stay tuned each month. I love hearing from you.

  2. Loved reading this while sitting in FLL on first leg to Nairobi. So excited to see and photograph all these great animals. Love the giraffes drinking.

    1. Well, Kathy…as I write this you will be spending your first night at Amboseli and may have seen a few giraffe in Tsavo. When you get to the Maasai Mara you will probably see the most giraffe, in addition to everything else. Look for shots with the giraffe, zebra and wildebeest in the same frame. I am truly there ‘in spirit’ as I follow your itinerary and picture in my mind the sights. Tomorrow I picture you at Poacher’s Lookout at Observation Hill above the swamp. Wish I could be there…could you tell? Enjoy every minute.

  3. Now I know more about giraffes than I ever knew. The photos we’re magnificent. Thanks for sharing both.

    1. Ben+Pilla…thank you for taking the time to comment. Writing about my favorite activity in the world and sharing some of my photography is my way of reliving 40 years of taking people on safari. It’s as close as I can come to being there, so my goal is to take you with me in these adventures and share some of my experiences and knowledge. You may know more about giraffe now than you ever knew, but I’ve got a ton more to share if you’re still interested. I hope you’ll join me again and let me know if it’s worth the price of admission. Many thanks, Ben+Pilla.

  4. Richard+Stoebel

    I’ve been to Johannesburg on business but never had the time to go on a safari. I learned something from this short story that I did not know. Thank you for the education!

    1. Richard, Richard, Richard….how could you let that happen? Joburg and no safari….?? I truly appreciate you commenting, but now I’ll have to try even harder to take you along with me in this column to make up for you being sooo close. I know you can get knowledge from any book on wildlife, but I really want you to be able to get a taste of being there and sharing some of these incredible experiences. My writing and photography bring me back to my favorite places on the planet. I hope you will join me as I try to share with you some of the “feelings”, not just the knowledge. Thank you so much Richard+Stoebel.

  5. Fascinating! The giraffe has always been one of my favorites and now I know a little more about them. Thank you for your insight and beautiful photography.

    1. Hi Dianna. Thanks so much. I always enjoy hearing from you and really appreciate all your comments. I know I don’t have to tell you how much I love the wildlife I’ve been so fortunate to have experienced. Sharing my feelings and knowledge through my photography and writing has been like a revival for me. Reliving my safaris by sharing them has kept me in tune with Africa without being there. Definitely not as good as actually being “in the bush”, but certainly keeping the spirit alive and the juices flowing. There will definitely be more about giraffe in future episodes, but so many adventures to go. Again, thank you Dianna for taking the time to join me and of course, your comments.

    1. Hi Doris. I appreciate your interest and you’ve got a great question about giraffe knees. While they can bend, somewhat, they’re not very flexible. Watching a giraffe move you’ll see that their gate is rather stiff looking and both legs on the same side of their body move at the same time. The unique bone-ligament structure of a giraffe’s knee helps it to support its massive weight, but does not allow the flexibility we see in other animals. The only way they can get down low, as in drinking water, is to splay their legs fairly wide and this puts them in the most vulnerable position…possibly to be attacked by lion. More information is always thrown in with my adventures, so stay tuned and I’ll try to keep you busy. Thanks again, Doris.

  6. Marty Monkiewicz

    Thank you for another very interesting story Mike. Learning and viewing your photos is a true pleasure. Grateful to receive all your stories and posts.

    1. I’m having a great time doing this and I’m thrilled you’re interested. Thanks for your comments, Marty. I’m actually more energized knowing you and others are reading and hopefully enjoying my little adventures in Africa. To me, a safari in Africa is the ultimate experience so I’m doing what I can to take you all along with me. It certainly keeps me from getting lonely. Thanks again Marty, I’ll keep these coming…there’s plenty more.

  7. I’m so glad you’re joining me on my safaris, Richard. My goal is for us to have as much fun as possible and maybe even learn something new in the process. For all the years I’ve been doing this I learn something new every time. I hope I can show you something new with each post as well. Thanks again.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content