21 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Spotted Giant

Daryl Balfour, by his own admission, was muttering mild curses when the glorious snow-capped Kilimanjaro appeared from behind a cloud, towering above the Kenyan plains.

He’d been hoping that he could capture an elephant in front of the mountain - iconic Africa. Instead, a giraffe appeared. He felt it was second-best at the time, but that photograph has gone everywhere in the world. You’ve probably seen it on a calendar, a brochure, a poster or the cover of a book.

Game rangers are often taken aback at what excites foreign tourists. Everyone assumes the Big 5 are the most popular. But usually people on a game drive vehicle for the very first time in Africa really want to see giraffes. And in fact, I agree with them. I’d rather watch a herd (actually, the collective noun is tower, or journey) of giraffes than a pride of sleeping lions.

Giraffes can be far more interesting.  It’s mesmerising to watch them eat. They have long soft purplish tongues that they effortlessly manoeuvre around vicious thorns to get at tender leaves.

Like cows, they chew the cud. Sometimes you can see this large lump travelling up to their mouths again, all the way up their long necks from their stomachs, and then down again. It’s quite strange to watch.

Also, they have this endearing habit of thinking they’re invisible if they hide behind trees. They’ll retreat and peer at you from between branches.

They guard against osteoporosis by sucking on bones - which has meant that many poor misguided tourists are convinced that giraffes are vicious hunters.

Daryl Balfour admits that the popularity of the picture made him realise that giraffes are probably the true icons of Africa. Unlike elephants, they’re found nowhere else.

Category: Wildlife

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