Category: Giraffe

My work involved supervising an anti-parasite drug resistance project carried out by  students taking part in the Global Health Field School in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). In brief, this meant getting up before sunrise to get to the field sites to sample and treat herds of goats and sheep. We would then return to camp and spend the day analyzing fecal samples for specific parasites. Yes, you read that right! Herds with high parasite levels were re-sampled about 2 weeks later to determine the effectiveness of the deworming treatment, which allowed us to gauge the likelihood of  drug resistance.

Goat Boma Study Large WM

At night the livestock are contained in these bomas to protect them from lions, hyenas and leopards, but from sunrise to sunset they spend their days grazing wherever the best vegetation can be found, all while under the watchful eyes of the Maasai. The pink marking on this young goat indicates that we treated it.

The reward of having our field site in NCA was the abundant wildlife that can be seen and heard from both within and around or camp.This included almost daily sightings of giraffe while we sat around the table eating our meals!

Massai giraffe with Massai shuka WM

Maasai giraffe in the background, with a traditional Maasai shuka (cloth blanket) hung out to dry on an acacia tree.

After a long day of work in the lab, the reward was a game of soccer with the locals or going for walks surrounding our camp. Most days that meant coming across numerous species of birds and a small herd of these Burchell’s zebra in fields of wildflowers!

Zebra yellow flowers cropped WM

Other times it was  impala, vervet monkeys or baboons trying to raid our camp for food (they were never successful), and the occasional elephant! Heard almost nightly were the whooping contact calls of hyenas and while we didn’t see or hear any lions or leopards, they are known to wander through from time to time. For some, this might have been their worst nightmare, but for me it made for one of the best field sites I’ve ever stayed at!


Two young male giraffe lines up and smash their heads against each other in Murchison Falls National Park.

The normally majestic looking giraffe appears quiet out of ordinary when it requires a drink. Giraffe can go long periods of time without drinking, which is probably a good thing because it is so awkward for them to bend over.  Physiologically, giraffe have unique anatomical differences in their blood vessels to allow them to lower their heads from a height of approximately 15 feet above ground to below ground level without fainting either when drinking or when they quickly raise their heads back up to normal position. Giraffe also have exceptionally long, dark tongues (up to 17 inches) that are incredibly tough.  Both males and females have horns covered in skin. When the males fight for dominance or a mate they stand parallel with each other, swing their head and necks outward and down until they collide together around chest high.  In this photo the bird in flight is an oxpecker that couldn’t hold on when the giraffe lowered it’s head. It quickly flew back onto the giraffe’s neck and a few minutes later was inside the giraffe’s ear picking out insects.

These giraffe all lined near the watering hole at the Ol Pejeta tented camp.  The adult male was keeping the three females close to him as a younger male had also made his way to the watering hole and was interested in the females, but it wasn’t reciprocated.  Their are three species of giraffe in Kenya, with the other two being the Maasai and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe which is pretty much isolated to Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya.  It is estimated that giraffes sleep about 45 minutes a day and when a giraffe is born it falls about six feet to the ground!

This photo was just a matter of patience and timing. These two female reticulated giraffe had just finished drinking at the watering hole and were surveying the landscape. Everything from the mud on their feet to the position of their bodies matched up and made for an interesting photo.