Tetrapod Zoology

I’ve said it before: it isn’t that I don’t like giraffes – quite the contrary – it’s just that they have a nasty habit of dying in the most bizarre, fascinating ways. And, because they’re such big, obvious, famous animals, when they do die in bizarre and fascinating ways, people tend to record it photographically. So, we’ve previously seen a giraffe killed in a fight by another giraffe, a giraffe hit by a plane, and a giraffe killed on a road by lions. Giraffes also get struck by lightning sometimes, but nobody’s yet photographed this happening to my knowledge. The death featured here is perhaps the most bizarre of all…

i-85fe056c9d3555b30f2e75cb416ab8d2-Grzimek_with_unfortunate_giraffe.jpg

In this case, the unfortunate animal slipped while feeding and died after getting its neck caught in a forked branch. It strangled to death, and its carcass then remained, suspended from the tree, until people pulled it down. Some of you will recognise the gentleman as Bernhard Grzimek (1909-1987); I think the giraffe is a Masai giraffe Giraffa tippelskirchi. I have notes on this case somewhere but, to my supreme frustration, cannot find them right now (I’ll add more info if and when I find them). The photo you see here was featured in Animals magazine (the ancestor to BBC Wildlife) some time during the 1960s. Anyway, pretty bizarre. Poor animal.

Comments

  1. #1 Tengu
    September 30, 2008

    Dont Giraffes use proper H+S equitment when climbing trees?

  2. #2 Dartian
    September 30, 2008

    Ouch! Poor animal. What an awful way to die.

    Small correction: I think Grzimek’s first name is spelled Bernhard, not Bernard. And since he did most of his life’s work in Tanzania, that probably is indeed a Masai giraffe (but that’s of course only circumstantial evidence, and I really don’t know enough about giraffes).

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?, OM
    September 30, 2008

    Grzimek’s first name is spelled Bernhard, not Bernard.

    Not just spelled, but also pronounced, BTW.

  4. #4 Dartian
    September 30, 2008

    Not just spelled, but also pronounced, BTW.

    But what about his surname? I don’t think I’ve ever dared to attempt to pronounce it…

  5. #5 kereng
    September 30, 2008

    Grzimek is pronounced “jimek”, as in “Jim” or “gin”.

  6. #6 Darren Naish
    September 30, 2008

    Oh, and all these years I’ve been saying ‘grrr-iz-mek’. Remember, native English speakers are generally clueless when it comes to pronunciation. I know I am.

  7. #7 Neil
    September 30, 2008

    yikes thats a bad way to go!

  8. #8 carel
    September 30, 2008

    HA! I also spent many years wondering how to pronounce “Grzimek,” to the point of checking local telephone directories for the name when I traveled. I finally found a Grzimek listing (I don’t remember where), called them and asked how to say their name. They claimed to get such calls regularly from zoology enthusiasts.

  9. #9 chris wemmer
    September 30, 2008

    Good topic. You’d think giraffes especially vulnerable to this, but I once saw a photo of a fox that somehow got its neck caught in a tree fork. All the same, we can’t deem forked branches as dangerous as cattle fencing, which snags and kills untold numbers of deer in North America annually. Of course they rarely get caught by the neck. Hey, I’ve also heard German’s pronounce it “Chimek”. I believe it’s of Czech origin.

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    September 30, 2008

    By the way, one other point of etymological weirdosity: whenever I see a comment from Dartian, I always think of a book review published by R. D. Marten in 1972, titled ‘Dartians to martians’. Marten was reviewing Bjrn Kurten’s 1972 Not From the Apes, and Kurten insisted on referring to australopithecines as Dartians, a name first suggested by Arthur Keith in 1947. Kurten thought that humans were the direct descendants of little tarsier-like primates (a fairly popular idea early in the 20th century), and that we were the ancestors – not the descendants – of the other apes.

  11. #11 Darren Naish
    September 30, 2008

    On animals hanging themselves: there are also cases of deer clambering up into tree tops after heavy snowfalls, then falling through the snow and getting caught by forked branches. The snow then melted, leaving the dead deer suspended from the branch. My notes for this (with source) are in the same place as the notes on Grzimek’s giraffe… if you saw my office right now you’d understand my predicament.

    Oh, and a giraffe called Chakula was – allegedly – hanged accidentally after getting caught in rope at Basel Zoo earlier this year. Another giraffe (Dusti) at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago was also apparently hanged accidentally by rope in 2007, though I heard that this story might have been fabricated.

    And, of course, in 1916 Mary the elephant was hanged (by crane) for the ‘murder’ of caretaker Red Eldridge. I wish I was joking. They tried shooting and electrocuting her first, but it can take a lot to kill an elephant.

  12. #12 Aranae
    September 30, 2008

    I note you are recognizing this as a full species instead of a subspecies.

  13. #13 go natural
    September 30, 2008

    I wonder what percentage of the giraffe fall to this type of demise.

  14. #14 Graeme
    September 30, 2008

    Not as ‘ironic’ as beavers squashed under trees though…

  15. #15 Darren Naish
    September 30, 2008

    Aranae says…

    I note you are recognizing this as a full species instead of a subspecies.

    Yup. See…

    Brown, D. M., Brenneman, R. A., Koepfli, K.-P., Pollinger, J. P., Mil, B., Georgiadis, N. J., Louis, E. E., Grether, G. F., Jacobs, D. K. & Wayne, R. K. 2007. Extensive population genetic structure in the giraffe. BMC Biology 2007, 5: 57 doi:10.1186/1741-7007-5-57

  16. #16 Jerzy
    September 30, 2008

    I wonder, what happens if you put giraffe into a very big pan of water and heat it very, very slowly until boiling?

  17. #17 Darren Naish
    September 30, 2008

    Jerzy, why this constant obsession with eating mega-mammals? :)

    Actually, a colleague and I have recently completed a manuscript on what would happen were you to put a giraffe in a big pan of water – more details when it gets published (assuming it does)…

  18. #18 jck
    September 30, 2008

    I wonder if sauropods also had that problem.

  19. #19 Aranae
    September 30, 2008

    jck,
    I imagine a few sauropods were boiled alive at the K/T event.

  20. #20 DunkTheBiscuit
    September 30, 2008

    “And, of course, in 1916 Mary the elephant was hanged (by crane) for the ‘murder’ of caretaker Red Eldridge. I wish I was joking. They tried shooting and electrocuting her first, but it can take a lot to kill an elephant.”

    I wish you were joking, as well :( Things like that make me lose a bit more of my faith in my species.

    Wasn’t there a case in the UK of a giraffe being killed by a low bridge whilst being transported? Or is that an Urban Legend? These animals do indeed seem to come to sticky, blackly comic ends…

  21. #21 Aranae
    September 30, 2008

    I don’t think there’s been enough of a discussion of what exactly a subspecies is, particularly in an era of genetic markers. That makes determining the line between species and subspecies even harder based on those markers.

    I don’t count myself among the believers that elevation of giraffes is warranted. Brown et al. essentially show that there is population structuring (but not reciprocal monophyly) that corresponds to morphological differences. To me that’s a subspecies. I don’t think they’ve ruled out a metapopulation (any migration taking place over very large time frames) that centers around Reticulated and Masai populations/subspecies without a hard break separating the two (see the haplotype network) and other regional subspecies having been derived from one of the two.

  22. #22 Jared
    September 30, 2008

    Aranae, if there is no gene flow between the groups, they are, by definition, separate species. Even if they are capable of interbreeding, they are not, and so species status is warranted. The idea of reciprocal monophyly, I think, should be done away with as it does not represent isolation or even capacity to interbreed within several generations of species divergence. Instead, we should look at gene flow between species. I think the reciprocal monophyly criterion is overly strict in defining a species.

  23. #23 Nathan Myers
    September 30, 2008

    If you had shown me only the photograph, I would have insisted it had to be a fake. The neck looks like a scrap of drapery, and the horns look like turned furniture legs.

    Given that it’s real, I must now reconsider the origins of furniture and drapery.

  24. #24 Dartian
    October 1, 2008

    By the way, one other point of etymological weirdosity: whenever I see a comment from Dartian, I always think of a book review published by R. D. Marten in 1972, titled ‘Dartians to martians’. Marten was reviewing Bj�rn Kurten’s 1972 Not From the Apes, and Kurten insisted on referring to australopithecines as Dartians, a name first suggested by Arthur Keith in 1947.

    Glad you recognized where my nom de plume comes from, Darren. Since nobody really ever took up on Keith’s suggestion (Björn Kurtén notwithstanding), I thought I’d do my bit to save the word ‘dartian’ from complete obscurity.

    Kurten thought that humans were the direct descendants of little tarsier-like primates (a fairly popular idea early in the 20th century), and that we were the ancestors – not the descendants – of the other apes.

    Not quite. It’s been many years since I read Not From the Apes, but if I remember correctly Kurtén thought – at the time, mind – that humans and great apes shared a common ancestor until the early Oligocene (by which time the supposed LCA was monkey-like rather than tarsier-like). According to this scenario, the human lineage retained primitive characters while the great apes are more derived; hence Kurtén’s idea that the ancestors of the modern great apes were more human-like than chimpanzee/gorilla/orangutan-like. (The book was originally published in 1971, and Kurtén later accepted the molecular evidence for a close relationship between humans and the great apes.)

    As for the book’s title, I’ve been told by someone who knew Kurtén well that he deliberately made it slightly misleading. He reckoned that it would get more publicity and perhaps fool some creationists into buying the book.

  25. #25 Dartian
    October 1, 2008

    Sorry for the messed up umlauts! They looked alright in preview…

  26. #26 Tengu
    October 1, 2008

    If it was a Masai giraffe, that means it was a small one, right?

    So was it trying to reach as high as a bigger type, and slipped??

    `The Town That Hung the Elephant` they certainly knew how to get noticed. (essential in small town america)

    in India they would have simply put up a notice `Mahout Wanted; Must be experienced, top rates of pay, immediate start.`

  27. #27 Jerzy
    October 1, 2008

    >Jerzy, why this constant obsession with eating mega-mammals?

    Cannot say, can be genetics?

  28. #28 Jerzy
    October 1, 2008

    Actualy, Grzimek is Polish, he could understand rudimentary Polish. Originally it would be “G-jimek, with “j” like French “Jacques” or Spanish “jacaranda”, not English “jam”. His zookeepers in Germany would probably pronounce it more like “Gr-tzimek”.

  29. #29 Jerzy
    October 1, 2008

    Specific separation of giraffes I see as rather bad attempt to get publicity and more interest in conservation of giraffes.

    The question of gene flow – now that giraffe populations are fragmented in national parks, there is naturally no gene flow. But nobody doubts that giraffes readily interbred, they do it in zoos.

    There is also strange and unfounded assumption that genetic distance within populations of a species should correspond to geographical distance. It is never like that, you have refugia and recolonization, and strange gene flow, and dispersal blocked by existing populations.

  30. #30 Andreas Johansson
    October 1, 2008

    If different giraffe populations should be considered specifically distinct solely because of a lack of synchronic gene flow, couldn’t one advance the same argument for, say, pre-contact Tasmanians?

  31. #31 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2008

    Grzimek is pronounced “jimek”, as in “Jim” or “gin”.

    No, it’s not dj but gj in French terms. GZHEE-meck.

    (And be glad the Poles don’t pronounce their rz like they once did.)

    I finally found a Grzimek listing (I don’t remember where), called them and asked how to say their name. They claimed to get such calls regularly from zoology enthusiasts.

    LOL! Incredible. :-D

    To me that’s a subspecies.

    There is no official definition of subspecies. A subspecies is whatever you say is a subspecies.

    Aranae, if there is no gene flow between the groups, they are, by definition, separate species. Even if they are capable of interbreeding, they are not, and so species status is warranted.

    That is one definition of at least twenty-five. Depending on the defnition, there are between 101 and 249 endemic bird species in Mexico! A species is whatever you say is a species.

    Sorry for the messed up umlauts! They looked alright in preview…

    Never preview. :-|

    with “j” like French “Jacques”

    Yes.

    or Spanish “jacaranda”

    No! That one is roughly like Polish (and German, and Scottish…) ch. Unless you don’t mean Spanish (castellano) but Catalan. :-)

    His zookeepers in Germany would probably pronounce it more like “Gr-tzimek”.

    I bet they knew better.

  32. #32 William Miller
    October 1, 2008

    >If different giraffe populations should be considered >specifically distinct solely because of a lack of synchronic >gene flow, couldn’t one advance the same argument for, say, >pre-contact Tasmanians?

    I don’t think they’re distinct SOLELY because of that — there are significant differences, at least visually and probably genetically.

    But the point definitely stands — I never found a definition of subspecies that wouldn’t imply that humans could be divided into several. I think the “ad hoc rule” applies here — “If it looks like a species/subspecies…”

    Can someone more knowledgeable than me clarify this point?

  33. #33 JuliaM
    October 1, 2008

    “All the same, we can’t deem forked branches as dangerous as cattle fencing, which snags and kills untold numbers of deer in North America annually. Of course they rarely get caught by the neck.”

    There’s a fantastic museum (?) in San Antonio (http://www.buckhornmuseum.com/) that has a big display of whitetail taxidermy with various amounts of barbed and fencing wire (or other deer antlers!) entwined in their racks.

    “Oh, and a giraffe called Chakula was – allegedly – hanged accidentally after getting caught in rope at Basel Zoo earlier this year.”

    Probably shouldn’t have named it something that means ‘food’ in Swahili.. ;)

  34. #34 Jochen
    October 1, 2008

    In Germany, Grzimek is pronounced “Jimek” as in Jim or gin.

  35. #35 Andreas Johansson
    October 1, 2008

    But the point definitely stands — I never found a definition of subspecies that wouldn’t imply that humans could be divided into several

    Huh? The question was whether humans should be divided into several species, not subspecies.

  36. #36 Nathan Myers
    October 1, 2008

    Andreas: The separate species notion would go a long way to explaining my neighbor Joe. Nobody interbreeds with Joe, not voluntarily anyway. But where did he come from?

  37. #37 Zach Miller
    October 1, 2008

    I don’t think anybody’s suggest auto-erotic aesphisciation (spelling mangled horribly)!

  38. #38 Nathan Myers
    October 1, 2008

    Zach: Nobody who reads TetZoo would have such execrable taste.

  39. #39 William Miller
    October 1, 2008

    >Huh? The question was whether humans should be divided into >several species, not subspecies.

    Eh, sorry I wasn’t clear — I was just trying to point out the subjectivity of these things.

  40. #40 Zach Miller
    October 1, 2008

    Yeah, total chance thing, Nathan. One of my old high school friends actually died that way. Thus, my mental association. :-(

  41. #41 Nathan Myers
    October 1, 2008

    Zach: Bummer. Here I sat thinking that stuff was urban legend. But I suppose your friend demonstrated his conspecificity with my neighbor Joe, referenced above.

    (I’ve never had occasion to write conspecificity before. TetZoo FTW!)

  42. #42 llewelly
    October 2, 2008

    Sorry for the messed up umlauts! They looked alright in preview…

    Preview will screw up your html character entity references (your umlauts, in this case).
    If you preview a post containing html character entity references, carefully examine the text provided in the edit box … you will find your carefully typed character entity references replaced with the actual characters – which are not acceptable to scienceblogs. That’s right – preview is NOT showing you the result of posting what is in the edit box – it’s showing you the result of what you originally typed, not the text scienceblogs puts in the edit box. The result is the umlauts (or other chars) look alright in preview, and atrocious in the post. Moral of the story: You can’t trust scienceblogs preview. It’s horribly buggy.

  43. #43 Renato Bender
    October 2, 2008

    An interesting collection of similar bizarr accidents with several animals you can find in “Animal Wonderland” by Frank W. Lane (1951), in my German exemplar on pp. 130-161. There you can find some reports about giraffes hanging in telegraf lines in Uganda.

  44. #44 Alexandra Lynch
    October 2, 2008

    Re Nathan’s comment, my husband, when a fireman, actually rolled on an Exploding Toilet incident. We used to have a cassette tape of the radio traffic from report through to taking the unfortunate gentleman to the hospital. (They sold them to raise money for the department, with said gentleman’s full agreement.)

    For the curious, if your vent pipe is blocked by bird nest debris, your spouse leaves cleaner in the toilet to work on the stains, you have Mexican for lunch and consequently a longer and more methane producing time on the toilet that evening, and you toss a lit cigarette butt into the toilet when you’re done, things go BOOM.

  45. #45 Nathan Myers
    October 9, 2008

    Completeness demands that we refer to the following:

    http://scarygoround.com/index.php?date=20080324

    It is truly the case that in America, we do not refer to the giraffe as a “lamp-post cow”. But we could.

  46. #46 David Marjanovi?
    October 9, 2008

    you will find your carefully typed character entity references replaced with the actual characters – which are not acceptable to scienceblogs.

    Not true. Even the ? in my name is copied & pasted from the Windows Character Table, and it gets through without problems; things like or I simply write by one or two keystrokes (German keyboard layout). What is a problem if you view the page in the wrong encoding. However, typing in the HTML apparently avoids this, in the text of a comment at least.

  47. #47 David Marjanovi?
    October 9, 2008

    If you do want to use preview, don’t click “post” when you’re done. Go back and then click “post” without passing through preview again.

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