Though I had seen giraffes in zoos, it was a totally different experience to see wild creatures like these in their natural environment, on the Serengeti Plains, in Tanzania, in 2014. In a zoo, you are safe: the animal is confined and, if not tame, at least partially used to human interaction. In the Serengeti, though I never felt unsafe, I was very much aware that I was out of place, an intruder in a savage world, where death and violence are commonplace.
I felt this most when we were watching these three young male giraffes. Initially, they looked like they were just hanging out like good buddies but, as we watched, they started necking. This is a common, often violent ritual to establish dominance in the herd or to impress a female. They swing their necks and try to hit each other with those hard bumps (ossicles) on the tops of their heads. And it must hurt – those whacks and thumps sounded brutal and can apparently be heard up to a kilometre away. These three didn’t injure each other but older males have been known to knock each other unconscious with the power of their blows. It was certainly sobering to watch.