Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Giraffes: Long-Necked Icons Who May Soon be Long Gone

A new book captures the magnificence of the world's tallest animal

Giraffes are amazing unlikely beings. Their anatomy, physiology, and behavior, like that of other iconic land species such as elephants and kangaroos, simply don't make sense in any straightforward way. Yet, all of these mammals are able to survive and thrive especially when they are left alone by humans, which, unfortunately and shamefully, they're not.

A new book by renowned author and Psychology Today writer Dale Peterson and photographer Karl Amman, Giraffe Reflections, is a must read for a number of reasons. This incredible book follows up on their previous magnificent work called Elephant Reflections

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Giraffes are alluring animals about whom we previously knew surprisingly little. Peterson and Amman's book is filled with wonderful and detailed historical accounts of these long-legged and long-necked icons, numerous scientific facts, observations of new behavior patterns, and wonderful stories. It reveals many valuable lessons about who these skyscraping beings are and why we should all work hard to protect them.

Among the interesting facts about giraffes we learn that Arabic authors called them zurafa or zarafa, the linguistic root of which means "assembly, "in reference to the idea that this animal was an assemblage of different parts of different animals." (Page 62) Readers are also introduced to the behavior of giraffes, including an action that had never before been described that the authors called "leg-lifting". Leg-lifting is a form of sparring, or "giraffe jujitsu" during which "one male attempts to unbalance and topple the other with a surprise lift and twist of the leg." (Page 123) And, we also are introduced to "playful nurseries" called "giraffe kindergartens", where young giraffes and their mothers hang out together, and the youngsters are protected from predators when the moms seek nutritionally rich leaves in the areas surrounding the nurseries. (Page 145)

Giraffe Reflections is among the most well-written and illustrated books I've read in years. The text and photographs are seamlessly woven into an encyclopedic tapestry that is very easy to read, and what I really enjoyed is that when I was done, I realized how much I'd effortlessly learned about the amazing life of these charismatic animals.

I can go on and on about this most-welcomed book but a most sobering thought is that without strong efforts to protect giraffes, we might lose these icons sooner than later. Why is it that iconic animals such as giraffes, elephants, and kangaroos, for example, find themselves wantonly sought out and killed by humans? A world without them and the many other animals who are now imperilled because of our selfish behavior will be a much poorer place to live. 

Giraffe Reflections is an excellent and urgent reminder that we cannot go on killing off other animals for our own supposed benefits. Indeed, research in the fields of anthrozoology (the study of human-animal relationships) and conservation psychology ("the scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world"; see also) clearly show that when other animals lose, we also lose. We suffer the indignities to which we subject them and we likely won't realize how much we miss them until they're gone. I shudder when I think of this possibility. 

 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

more...

Subscribe to Animal Emotions

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?