Death by Tree
Life isn’t easy for a giraffe. They face many different threats throughout their range – habitat loss, illegal hunting, predation - but for this particular bull, its most lethal adversary was a fork in a tree. We were deep in the heart of Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, conducting a photographic survey of the world’s largest known population of the critically endangered Nubian giraffe. While the rest of his herd moved on as we photographed them, he remained recumbent and unresponsive. Sometime the big bulls are reluctant to get to their feet for a nonthreatening passing Landcuiser, but upon closer inspection, this bull was clearly not lazy…he was dead. His carcass was fresh but rigor mortis had appeared to set in, so I suspect he had only been dead for only a few hours. In looking at the position of his head, the angle of his jaw or the broad vertical part of the ramus was wedged into the fork of this tree. I suspect that while feeding, something had startled him and in an attempt to lift his head, he wedged his mandible in the tree’s crook. Panicked, he likely pulled away and lost his footing, falling into the tree and forcing the entire weight of his massive neck right on that crucial choke point. Unable to rock up and regain his upright posture, he accidentally strangled himself. He was a large bull in his prime, so it was a very strange series of events that led to his unfortunate demise.
Interestingly, giraffe seem to be a morbidly curious creature (a subject for another post). While this bull had died, an exceptionally large herd of >60 giraffe surrounded him and sent him off to the great savannah in the sky. Death by plant is an unusual end to such a massive browser, but sometimes you eat the tree and apparently sometimes the tree eats you.