Photographed and written by: Roger and Pat de la Harpe
We were staying at Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana and had the great fortune late one afternoon to come across a giraffe giving birth.
It was the giraffe’s stillness that first attracted our attention. As our vehicle approached, she moved slightly and we saw why she was remaining quite still. She was giving birth, and the front legs and nose of her calf were already visible. The late afternoon sun beat down as a miracle unfolded before us in the dusty veld in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana.
She strained forward suddenly and the calf’s head appeared, then time stood still as we waited for the shoulders to emerge. It was an anxious wait, which seemed to stretch endlessly into the approaching dusk. If we had noticed her predicament, there was every chance that the reserve’s predators would have also done so. She looked a particularly young giraffe and perhaps this was her first pregnancy. And then, almost as if our concerns had prodded fate, two jackals materialised from the scraggy bushes behind her, and the giraffe moved off a short distance, although still remained within range of our camera lenses. The intruders sniffed the area, lost interest and headed elsewhere to hunt, which was much to our relief as Tuli’s jackals can be demons when it comes to harassment.
She lowered her long neck again as she pushed and almost imperceptibly more of her calf started to show. Suddenly its shoulders were out and then, with incredible grace, it arched its long body and landed with a plop on the dusty earth in a great whoosh of amniotic fluid.
She licked her new arrival with her long black tongue and nudged it with her nose to encourage it to stand. The calf tottered repeatedly to its feet only to wobble about and collapse in an unhappy heap of shaky knees and trembling limbs.
The shadows grew longer as time passed and then in the fading light it finally stood and nuzzled its mother for a drink. We cheered them both, unashamedly emotional.
The gestation period for giraffes varies between 400 and 460 days, after which a single calf is usually born (twins are rare). As you can see in this sequence of photos, the mother gives birth standing up, and the new born animal slides out and “plops” onto the ground rather than falling down. The mother then grooms the youngster and encourages it to stand, which is not easy on very wobbly legs, but after a few hours it is capable of running around.
To find out more about giraffes, read: A Journey with Giraffes