The calcium and phosphorus content of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and buffalo (Syncerus caffer) skeletons

Osteophagia, variable serum calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) concentration, high serum alkaline phosphatase activity, a high growth rate, and a large skeletal mass, all suggest that Ca and P requirements and availability are finely balanced in giraffes. The mineral content of some marker bones in skeletons obtained from adult male giraffes (browsers) and adult male African buffaloes (grazers of similar body mass) were compared to assess the idea of critical Ca and P balance. Our results show that the P concentration of plasma varies more than Ca concentration, and that the Ca content of giraffe bones (0.196 ± 0.01 g/g) and buffalo (0.202 ± 0.006 g/g) varies more than P content (0.095 ± 0.002 in both). The average Ca and P content of the bones analysed was similar in both species (Ca=∼20.0%, P=∼9.5%). Giraffe skeletons, however, contain three times more Ca and P than do buffalo skeletons. This translates into a 1.5–2.0 fold higher Ca requirement for giraffes, with which they seem to cope effectively by selection for Ca-rich, dicotyledonous, browse. Sources of P to meet requirements are not obvious and a seasonal deficiency of P is a more likely cause of observed osteophagia than Ca deficiency. Giraffe rib P density, the best measure of P balance, of 0.142 ± 0.01 g/cm3 is, however, above the deficiency threshold. Bone mineral content (Ca and P) correlates well with bone density and shows only slight differences between adult males of the two species.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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