Can osteophagia provide giraffes with phosphorus and calcium?

The daily requirement for calcium and phosphorus by giraffes to sustain the growth and maintenance of their skeletons is large. The source of sufficient calcium is browse. The source of necessary phosphorus is obscure, but it could be osteophagia, a frequently observed behaviour in giraffes. We have assessed whether bone ingested as a result of osteophagia can be digested in the rumen. Bone samples from cancellous (cervical vertebrae) and dense bones (metacarpal shaft) were immersed in the rumens of five sheep, for a period of up to 30 days, and the effect compared to immersion in distilled water and in artificial saliva for 30 days. Distilled water had no effect on the bones. Dense bone samples were softened by exposure to the saliva and rumen fluid, but did not lose either calcium or phosphorus. In saliva and rumen fluid the cancellous bone samples also softened, and their mass and volume decreased as a result of exposure to saliva, but in neither fluid did they lose significant amounts of calcium and phosphorus. We conclude that although saliva and rumen fluid can soften ingested bones, there is an insignificant digestion of bones in the rumen.

Last Updated
February 3, 2021
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