Few four-legged animals cut figures as distinctive as giraffes. And new research suggests they do things differently, too. Animals form groups for a variety of reasons but, as a general rule, the greater the risk from predators, the bigger the group.
However, a new study suggests that the opposite is true of Rothschild’s giraffes in Kenya.
University of Bristol biologists have found that groups are actually smaller in lion-inhabited areas. What’s more, females with calves – the most vulnerable to being taken by lions – were found in smaller groups than those without calves.
“This is surprising, and highlights how little we know about even the most basic aspects of giraffe behaviour,” says Zoe Muller of the Bristol team.
They are now looking to test whether the same holds for other giraffe species elsewhere in Africa. It also remains to be seen what factors determine group size if it’s not predators.
“Giraffes are a threatened species, suffering ongoing decline across Africa, and this research highlights how they are actually an incredibly misunderstood species,” says Muller.
“We can only manage and conserve giraffe populations effectively if we properly understand their behaviour and ecology, which we are only just beginning to do.”