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).
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.
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.
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.