Giraffe

Giraffe

Giraffa g. angolensis and Giraffa tippelskirchiin
Local names – ndyabuluba, nyamalikiti

Giraffe are the world’s tallest animal.

The name ‘giraffe’ comes from the Latin ‘camelopardalis’, meaning ‘camel marked like a leopard’.

Although the IUCN currently says there is one species of giraffe, with nine subspecies, recent research studies and comprehensive DNA sampling by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and its partner, the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, have found that there are four distinct species of giraffe, with five subspecies:

The four distinct species are:  Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi), Northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), Reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata) and Southern giraffe (G. giraffa).

The five subspecies are:  two subspecies of the Southern Giraffe - Angolan giraffe (G. g. angolensis) and South African giraffe (G. g. giraffa) with the three subspecies of the Northern giraffe being - Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis), Kordofan giraffe (G. c. antiquorum) and West African giraffe (G. c. peralta).

Their research has found that Rothschild’s giraffe is genetically identical to the Nubian giraffe, with Thornicroft’s being genetically identical to Masai giraffe.

Zambia is home to the Angolan (Giraffa g. angolensis) and a small isolated population of Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchiin), known locally as Thornicroft’s, which are only found in the Luangwa Valley.

 

Giraffe are a key species – they act as an ‘early warning’ system for the wildlife that associate with them, because they have such good eyesight and can spot danger from a long way away.  They are beneficial to Acacia trees as their browsing stimulates new shoots, aids with seed dispersal and germination and they play a role in plant pollination.

 

Description

Shoulder Height:  3.3 meters
Head height:  males up to 5.5 metres and females up to 4.5 metres
Weight:  700 – 1,100 kg
Tail Length:  80 – 100 cm
Age:  15 – 20 years

Incredibly tall, giraffe have a very long neck, with a short upright mane.  Their high shoulders slope steeply to their hindquarters and they have very long legs and a dark tassel on the tip of their tail.  Their short sandy coloured coat has uniquely patterned brown blotches and patterns which acts as camouflage.  Each sub-species has a different patterned coat:  Angolan giraffe have large brown angular blotches and a white ear patch;  Maasi Giraffe have darker irregular, jagged, star-like blotches.

Giraffe have a long muzzle, large eyes and two bony horns called ‘ossicones’.  They are one of the few animals that are born with horns which lie flat and are not attached to the skull to avoid injury at birth, fusing with their skull as they get older.  These horns are thin and tufted in females and thicker and bald on top in males as they wear during fights.  Male also develop calcium deposits on top of their heads as they age which help to deliver heavier blows when fighting rival males.

Their long, black tongues can extend more than 45 cm and are used to grasp onto leaves.  They also have two or three unique lobed canine teeth with are used like a comb to strip leaves from branches.

A giraffe’s neck is 2.4 metres long, with seven vertebrae – the same number as in humans.  Although giraffe’s bones are much larger and are linked by ball and socket joints so they are very flexible.  Giraffe have good eyesight, hearing and smell.

Behaviour

Giraffe are social mammals that live in groups, called ‘towers’ or ‘journeys’.  These contain up to 20 individuals, mainly mothers with their young, who do not form strong social ties.  Males are less social, forming bachelor herds with no permanent members.  They are not territorial and have variable home ranges, from 5 to 650 sq kms.

Giraffe spend up to 75% of their day eating.  They are browsers and eat a variety of leaves, herbs, flowers and fruit.  Acacia leaves form the bulk of their diet, but they do eat over 30 kbs a day, from 100 different plant species.  They only need to drink every two or three days as they take in most of the moisture they need from leaves.  They sleep for short periods of up to two hours at night, similar to elephants.

Giraffe are quiet animals, making a variety of noises:  mothers bellow to their young, males emit coughs during courtship and calves snort, bleat and mew.  They snore, hiss, grunt and make flute-like sounds and are thought to communicate over long distances using infra-sound, humming at night to each other.

A female giraffe gives birth to a single calf, rarely twins, after a gestation period of 15 months.  They give birth standing up and the new-born calf drops two metres to the ground.  Baby giraffe are able to stand after 20 minutes and are 1.8 metres tall.  They are closely guarded by their mothers for the first few weeks and then play with other young giraffe in ‘crèches’.  They are weaned at 13 months.

Male giraffe perform a ritualised sparring called ‘necking’ to test their strength which determines hierarchical status.  Contestants swing their necks at each other, striking body blows with their head – arching their necks and taking it in turn to try and hit their opponent.  They then ‘square off’ against each other, tail to tail whilst entwining their necks.  ‘Necking’ by young males can last for some time, as they pause standing motionless, or nibble on leaves, before continuing their duel.  The winner often lifts his nose in the air trying to make himself look taller than his opponent.  A serious fight between a dominant bull and a unknown adult male is often brief and very violent.  Their heavy heads and long necks can deliver staggering blows.  Usually the loser will walk away after a short duel, but winners have been known to knock their opponent unconscious!

Giraffe live on savanna, preferring semi-arid open acacia woodlands with scattered trees and bushes.  They have a distinctive gait and can run 10 km per hour for long stretches, reaching 50 km per hour for short bursts.

Lion, leopard, African wild dog and hyenas prey on young giraffe, with only 25 – 50% reaching maturity.

 

Conservation

Population Size:  13,050 Angolan and 32,500 Masai (approx 600 in Zambia)

Trend:  Angolan are increasing and Zambia’s Masai are stable

 

Giraffe are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Threats:  habitat loss and poaching for their meat, skin and tail.

 

 

 

Best places to see them in the wild:  South Luangwa is home to the Masai Giraffe and Mosi-au-Tunya, Sioma Ngwezi and Lusaka National Parks are home to Angolan Giraffe

Lion

Lion

Panthera leo
Local names:  mkango, nkalamo, shumbwa

Lions are the largest and most social African Carnivore.

There are two sub-species of lions – the Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo leo) which lives in India, and the African (Panthera leo persica) which is found in Africa and can be seen roaming across our grasslands in Zambia.

African Lions are a key species - they are the top predator within their environment and play an important role in keeping a healthy balance of other wildlife, especially herbivores, which in turn helps to maintain the flora in the habitats in which they live.  They also have a growing economic importance for ecotourism as they are a favourite ‘must see’ for tourists.

Description

Shoulder Height:  1.20 metres
Length:  1.4 – 2 metres
Weight:  130 – 190 kgs
Tail length:  up to 1 metre
Age:  12 to 16 years

African lions are very large cats, with powerful forelegs and jaws which can open up to 28 cm wide. They have a yellow-tawny brown short coat with a paler underside and the backs of their ears and the tuft on their tail are dark brown to black.  Adult males are larger than females and only males have shaggy manes, which range in colour from blonde to almost black.  Lion cubs are born with spots which disappear with age.

They have strong, sharp retractable claws which they sharpen on trees.  They have five toes on the front paws and four on the back.  They also have a dewclaw on their front paws which helps to hold down prey when they are eating.  Their whiskers are long and sensitive and each one has a black spot at its root – these spots make a unique pattern which helps researchers identify individuals.

Lions have scent glands on their face, tail and in-between their toes.  These produce an oily substance which helps to keep them waterproof.  They have a good sense of smell and hearing.

 

Behaviour

Lions are the only true social cat.  Related females live in groups called ‘prides’.  These consist of four to six adults with sub-adults and their young.  Males are either solitary or live in small groups called ‘coalitions’.  They are mainly nocturnal, resting up to 20 hours during the day and hunting at night.

They are carnivores, preying on a variety of animals, from small rodents to large antelope and even elephant with medium sized antelope, wildebeest and zebra forming the major part of their diet.  Lions stalk their prey and then kill it by suffocation.  Females preform 90% of hunting whilst males patrol their territory and protect their pride.  Despite being powerful hunters, they are often not very successful and so will scavenge kills off other carnivores, such as leopard and hyena.

An adult’s roar can be heard up to 8 km away.  They are very vocal and communicate with each other by meows, grunts, grows, and snarls.  They use body language to show how they are feeling, licking to show they are happy and relaxed whilst standing tall and hunching their backs to show they are unhappy.  They also ‘scent-mark’ their territory.

Females give birth to three to six cubs after a gestation of about 110 days.  Cubs are very dependent on their mothers, suckling until six months old.  They learn social skills and how to hunt from all the members of their pride.  When they are old enough to hunt by themselves at about two years old, the males will then leave the pride.

Lions live in a variety of habitats, from deserts to grasslands and savannah woodlands.  They can run up to 81 km per hour but only for a very short distance.

Although they do not have any natural enemies, young cubs are killed by male lions trying to take over a pride, and by other carnivores such as hyena.

 

Conservation

Population Size:  estimated at 23,000 – 39,000 individuals

Trend:  decreasing

The African Lion is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.  Historically over hunting and the growth of agriculture have dramatically reduced lion population numbers and their habitat, but it is not known how many lions now live in the wild although they are found across Zambia.

Threats:  habitat loss, disease, poisoning, the illegal wildlife trade and human wildlife conflict.

 

Best places to see them in the wild:  South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Parks

Wild Dog

African Wild Dog

Lycaon pictus
Local names – mumbulu, umpe, llakanyani

African wild dogs are the best hunters of all their fellow carnivores with a success rate of over 80%.

Their Latin name ‘Lyca’ means ‘painted wolf’.  They are also called Cape Hunting or Painted Dogs.

African wild dog are a key species - they are one of the top predators that are essential in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Being a popular ‘must see’ for tourists they contribute to the economy and the development of local tourism.

Description

Shoulder Height:  75 cms
Length:  85 – 140 cms
Weight:  18 – 34 kgs
Tail length:  30 – 40 cms
Age:  10 to 12 years

African Wild Dogs are the size of a medium domestic dog, with a thin and muscular body, long legs and large rounded ears.  Their short coats are mottled shades of brown, black, beige and white – individuals can be identified by their unique coat pattern.  They have a bushy tail which has a white tip at the end.  Unlike other dog-like species, they have only four, not five, toes.

They have a keen sense of hearing, smell and sight and they have an extremely powerful bite, with specialised molars that can shear meat and breaks bones.

Behaviour

Wild dogs are very social, living in mixed packs of around 10 or more closely related individuals.  They have a strict hierarchy, with an alpha breeding pair dominating over the rest of their pack.  When one of their subordinates becomes injured or ill the rest of the pack feeds and cares for them.  New packs are formed when a mature female leaves her pack to find a new mate.  This is thought to guard against in-breeding.  They all eat, play, hunt and even sleep together

Using teamwork to hunt, the pack fans out to cover more ground, giving chase to their selected prey.  Like a relay-team, as the leaders tire out other member of their pack continues to give chase, eventually exhausting their prey.  This coordinated strategy means that they have a high hunting success rate and they can take down antelope much larger than themselves.  To avoid their food from being stolen by other carnivores they eat extremely quickly.  They hunt impala, wildebeest zebra and kudu in the cooler mornings and evenings.  They also eat hares, lizards and eggs.

Wild dogs will bark an alarm call, growl to express anger and will let out a low-pitched cooing sound when they greet one another. When hunting and feeding they make bird-like ‘twittering’ sounds.  To attract attention youngsters make a variety of whines.  They are very tactile and rarely fight one another.  They use scent to communicate and they have a strong body odour which is thought to help them identify individuals at night and when hunting.

Only the alpha female gives birth to between four and up to twelve pups.  They are born in dens and will remain hidden for up to three months.  A new mother will stay with her pups with other pack members bringing her food.  All members co-operative care for the pups, helping to feed and ‘baby-sit’ them until they become adults at almost two years old.

Wild dogs are very nomadic, travelling large distances to find food.  Their home ranges can be as large as 5,000 sq kms and so they live in a range of habitats including plains, savanna, woodlands and forests.

Their natural predators are other large carnivores.  Spotted hyena will often try to steal their food.  Lions will kill wild dogs and their pups when they meet and will also try and steal their food rather than hunt for their own.

Conservation

Population Size:  estimated at 6,000 individuals

Trend:  decreasing

 

African wild dogs are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Threats:  habitat fragmentation, human wildlife conflict and they are susceptible to diseases caught from domestic dogs.

 

 

 

Best places to see them in the wild:  Kafue and South Luangwa National Parks