I find it incredible how one animal can mean so much to so many. Upon close consideration – and my profession affords me time for considerable consideration (perhaps too much consideration) – I am endlessly fascinated by the role that giraffe play in ecosystems and culture.
For the lioness, a giraffe may represent the opportunity to feed the next generation of her pride who lay hungry in the shade of a nearby Balanites aegyptica...
For the Acacia senegal tree, giraffe may serve as unexpected but critical pollinator, transferring pollen long distances between foraging bouts and maintaining the genetic diversity of tree species....
For the dung beetle, giraffe provide the raw materials to build a brooding ball to nourish the next generation. For an uncle at a giraffe feeding exhibit at the local zoo, giraffe can represent a shared moment of wonder with his new nephew as they watch that marvelous tongue hoover a lettuce leaf. For an infant in Paris, France, a small rubber giraffe can be a soothing plaything to ease the discomforts of teething.
For the elder woman in a community adjacent to Pian Upe Game Reserve in Uganda, giraffe can represent a sense of ecological hope and resilience. As she showed incredible strength to endure years of civil unrest, she also watched as that same conflict decimated the giraffe populations around her community in the mid 1990’s. Through scientifically informed conservation action and dedicated international collaborations, giraffe were reintroduced to the landscape in 2019 and she sang to welcome them back home. These animals served not only as a critical component of this ecosystem but also as a culturally significant totem to neighboring communities.
We share the world with such beautiful beings. Today, especially, I encourage you to reflect on the evolutionary marvel of the giraffe, as individuals and as members of vibrant ecosystems. And while your attention is there, I encourage you stay in that moment of beauty and reflect on the poetry of perhaps less iconic organism somewhere in your local surroundings. What does sharing space with that organism mean to you? Let giraffe be a gateway to wonder.
For these plains zebra in Ngorongoro, safety is found in numbers, clear visibility, and open landscapes. In the amazingly rich ecosystems of the crater’s plains and savannahs, predator and prey can often be seen in uneasy (at least for the zebra) proximity. The wary equids spend daylight hours taking advantage of the grass growing in the fertile volcanic soil, grazing in relative safety. I suspect it is a dramatically different scenario in the darkness.
Prior to the days of quality cell-phone cameras, I would keep a rugged point-and-shoot camera as a side-arm in a pouch on my belt. During this particular shot, the lions passed so close to the Landcruiser that I wanted a wider-angle perspective, so I put down the telephoto lens and reached to my hip for my reliable Nikon Coolpix for this shot.
I find antlers incredibly beautiful and endlessly fascinating. Beyond the elegant curves of ivory and mahogany colored bone, these uniquely cervid protruberances are incredibly diverse in form but remarkably simple in function. Most classically, antlers are essential for combat and conquest during a very short period during the breeding season. The amount of energy and nutrients that contribute to the growth of this deciduous bone is astounding, with some moose antlers exceeding 70 pounds in weight requiring immense investment from their wearer. After the violence of the rut (at least in most temperate cervids), these bones have mostly served their purpose and room must be made for the next year’s headgear. Eventually, the bone is severed by the ebb in sex hormones, and these adornments are unceremoniously shed into quiet snowbanks to be eroded by time or a fortunate porcupine. After the thaw and as the spring flowers begin to blossom, the cycle begins again, and the velvety bone regenerates, oftentimes bigger and more robust than the previous year. A cleverer man might find a powerful metaphor in that process.