Friday, November 14, 2008

Battle of giants

Giraffes are odd creatures in many ways. They are one of the only things I know that can look completely awkward, yet subtly graceful at the same time. They are a joy to watch as they go about their business in their slow, yet deliberate manor.

Before I arrived in Kenya, Dr. Holekamp had told me a very interesting story about a giraffe fight she had witnessed. I had high hopes for seeing these giants have a round of fisticuffs. I have been fortunate enough now to see giraffes battle for dominance on two different occasions. Last year I came upon a scene with about 15 giraffes standing around, watching two giraffes slug it out. It reminded me of high school fight, with many people standing around watching, but nobody is brave enough to break it up and most don't want to get close enough where they could become part of the action.

Giraffes have a fighting style only they can have. The swing their long necks at each other, trying to deliver blows with the thick, blunt horns on top of their head. It may look futile the first time you see a giraffe take a swing with its gangly neck, but I am quite sure if you were hit by the swinging giraffe head, you would be out of commission for a long time.

During the most recent fight I witnessed, I had trouble deciding which animal had won the fight. Looking back through the 90 pictures I snapped off in about 5 minutes, it was clear who was the champ. In the battle I saw last year, the fight went on for about 15 minutes, then another contender walked up. One of the two original fighters quickly sauntered away. Contender number two stood its ground, sort of. When the new challenger approached, the remaining contender gently placed its neck over top of the dominant animals neck.

It may seem strange that the subordinate animal would place it neck on top, but after I thought about it a bit more, it made sense to me. With its long neck on top of the dominant animals neck, it was in a completely defenseless position. The dominant giraffe could have easily taken a swing with its wrecking ball head and inflicted major damage. This is how many dominance interactions play out. The weaker animal shows its subordination by placing itself in vulnerable position. This is what I have worked out in my head about giraffe war. If anyone has read or been told differently, I am always interested in learning new things so feel free to write me. Or just see if you can pick the winner in the pictures, the one on the left or the one on the right.


Dana said...

Andy - Last year, in the Mara, we witnessed two giraffe's fighting. When the fight was over one of the males tried mounting the other giraffe (I have a photo to showing it). Our guide say that shows the winners domiance over the loser. Have you heard this?

Anonymous said...

Looks more like a ballet than a battle!

Andy Flies said...

Hi Dana,
I have not heard about that and I would love to see the picture! I believe your guide is probably correct, as I have heard of mounting is a form asserting dominance/submission in other species.
Thanks! -Andy

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science