Giraffe birth locations in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia: site fidelity or microhabitat selection?

Birth site location can have enormous implications for female reproductive success. Some ungulate species demonstrate consistent birth site fidelity, while others shift birth locations during their lifetimes as a function of ecological and social factors. We plotted 39 years of birth records from a wild population of Thornicroft’s giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti, to test the hypothesis that giraffe use consistent locations for birth. Data from 29 calves born to nine females revealed that birth seasonality was absent and that ecological zone had no significant impact on birth locations. Consecutive births by individual females were not limited to certain locations, with the distance between sequential birth sites tending to be greater if a calf failed to survive the first year of life. Our evidence conflicts with the suggestion that giraffe cows regularly return to special locations for bearing calves. We suggest that the choice of birth location is a function of nonseasonal breeding, predator pressure and extensive variation in microhabitat characteristics within ecological zones. Female giraffe have evolved a flexible reproductive strategy, whereby they regulate choice of birth site location based upon their past reproductive history, current ecological conditions (including both resource availability and predator pressure) and present social surroundings.

Last Updated
January 26, 2021
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