Giraffe grannies

In the midst of the doom and gloom surrounding us on a daily basis, I offer some news that may brighten your outlook.

There are certainly more consequential things to write about.  But let’s think about something else for a change: the pivotal role of grandmothers in the animal world. 

Yes, grandmothers.

In a recent issue of National Wildlife, published by the National Wildlife Federation, writer Mark Wexler highlights the role of giraffe grandmothers.

I’ve always viewed giraffes as the most graceful and charming of animals.  I’ve probably been swayed by photos of giraffes bending their long necks towards and around each other. But according to Wexler, until two decades ago, giraffes were believed to be basically aloof and lacking any social structure. 

Guess again.  Biologists at the University of Bristol have reviewed over 400 scientific studies of giraffe behavior and reached a very different conclusion.

It turns out that graceful, elegant, apparently aloof giraffes have highly complex social systems.  Most notably, these often include small groups led by older females, who spend as much as 30 percent of their lives after their reproductive years.

The biologists suggest that giraffes fit the “grandmother hypothesis,” the idea that females in certain species survive beyond their reproductive years so they can help raise later generations of their offspring. 

It now appears that giraffe grandmothers play an important role in raising young giraffes.

Biologists have previously noted this behavior in only a few other mammals.  Which ones?  Orcas, elephants, and–of course–humans.

The behavior of older female orcas is highlighted in a new CNN series about Patagonia.  Colorful footage reveals orca grannies teaching baby orcas how to survive in the treacherous waters along Patagonia’s Atlantic coast.  Others have noted this kind of behavior among elephants.  And I hope we’re all aware of the vital role played by human grandmothers.

The lead author of the British study, Zoe Muller, is baffled that giraffes, “such a…charismatic…species,” have been “under-studied for so long.”  She believes that we can use this newly-revealed understanding of giraffe behavior to bolster the population of giraffes in the wild. 

Apparently, giraffe population has been in decline for many years—by 40 percent since 1985.  But now that we have a better understanding of how this species behaves, Muller believes that conservation measures may be more successful.

I’m hoping that the active role pursued by these grandmothers will help our beautiful co-inhabitants of planet earth survive in greater numbers.  I’d hate to see giraffes disappear from our planet, wouldn’t you?

So let’s celebrate giraffe grandmothers.  And let’s hope that the worldwide population of giraffes will increase rather than decline. 

Our own grandchildren will be the happy beneficiaries.

3 responses to “Giraffe grannies

  1. Terrific choice of subject matter. Made my day.

  2. Thanks for this fascinating update about the nurturing behavior of giraffe grannies in helping to raise their grandchildren. So nice to know that there are mammals, other than humans, that exhibit this social structure.

  3. This has put a smile on my face and brightened my day. Thank you Susie

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