Giraffe mothers in East Africa linger for days near the remains of their dead calves

Repeated investigation of dead young or carrying of corpses has been observed in several mammalian taxa, notably primates [e.g. yellow baboons (Papio cynocephalus): Altmann, 1980; chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Goodall, 1986; Matsuzawa, 1997; Biro et al., 2010; ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta): Nakamichi, Koyama & Jolly, 1996; Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus bieti): Li et al., 2012), dolphins (Tursiops spp.) (Tayler & Saayman, 1972; Harzen & Dos Santos, 1992) and elephants (Loxodonta africana) (Moss, 1976; Poole, 1996), and was recently also described in giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) (Bercovitch, 2012). Bercovitch (2012) observed a Thornicroft’s giraffe (G. c. thornicrofti) briefly investigate the body of her dead, possibly stillborn, calf. Here, we present two additional cases where, following calf death, giraffe mothers and other herd members exhibited prolonged interest (over several days) in calf remains and/or the site of calf death. We consider the possible function of this behaviour.

Giraffe mothers and their calves bond during the neonatal period when calves are kept in hiding (Langman, 1977; Pratt & Anderson, 1979). The mother–calf bond lasts for a minimum of 12–16 months (Langman, 1977; Leuthold, 1979), and it has been suggested that mothers and daughters may associate for several years or more (Pratt & Anderson, 1985; Estes, 1992). Giraffe calves have a high mortality rate, 58–73% in the first year (Foster & Dagg, 1972; Pellew, 1983), but the death of calves and the subsequent behavioural response of mothers are rarely observed. This report helps to fill this void with observations of both Masai (G. c. tippelskirchi) and Rothschild’s (G. c. rothschildi) giraffes.

Last Updated
January 26, 2021
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