Why are Giraffes’ Tongues Black?

June 21, 2020

…and other oddities about Africa’s giants explained on World Giraffe Day.

Depending on which hemisphere you live in, today is the longest day or night, which is an apt day to celebrate the world’s tallest land animal. Today, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) leads the way in increasing people’s understanding of exactly what giraffes are all about and what their conservation status is. As the only NGO in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe in the wild throughout Africa, the GCF plays a significant role in conservation efforts, programmes, and educational initiatives.

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Dame Jane Goodall was onto something when she pointed out that “however much you know giraffes, to see one in the wild for the first time feels prehistoric”. We have seen many giraffes while leading wildlife safaris in Africa, and find that each time is another opportunity to witness their interesting behaviour. And since the giraffe is not a single species but rather a sub-family of four distinct species, depending on where in Africa you going exploring, each giraffe species looks slightly different to the next.

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You may come across the northern giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata) and/or Masai giraffe (Giraffa tippelskirchi) in the various regions. For now though, we take a look at the general characteristics  common too sub-species of giraffe found in Africa.

Why are giraffes’ tongues black?

Back to the headline question and one frequently asked be people on online search engines. The jury is not yet out on this one. There are multiple theories, with the more obvious one being that the darker colour – sometimes appearing as blue or purple – protects the tongue from getting sunburned. A giraffe’s tongue is its primary tool for grabbing delicious leaves off acacia trees, which is why it needs to be prehensile to manoeuvre its way around the tree’s nasty thorns.

Why are giraffes’ necks so long?

Did you know that about half of a giraffe’s height is just its neck? That works out to be about 2.5 meters of neck! Like it’s dark coloured tongue, there is no consensus among researchers as to exactly why it needs this particularly long neck. One theory suggests it is for spotting predators; the other points to its necessity for reaching shoots at treetops; and yet another claims that the longest necks wins the duel between males for a female.

Why are giraffes endangered?

The GCF estimates that there are just 111 000 giraffes left in Africa. Giraffes used to range across much of the continent’s savanna, but now are found in only a handful of communities scattered in clumps and some countries, the giraffe population has disappeared completely. Giraffes face a variety of threats, including habitat loss due to human-led encroachment, wildlife trafficking and poaching for the international trade in giraffe parts, an increase in disease and inbreeding, and droughts associated with climate change.

You can support the important work of GCF by donating to giraffe conservation or adopting a giraffe.


Posted by tfhadmin


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