Giraffe vs plane

i-3753f1221ab3659590942d26e956b38a-giraffe vs plane.jpg

While googling for Tetrapod Zoology recently (how vain) I came across a bunch of interesting giraffe images, most of which I'll be recycling here at some stage in the future. I don't know anything about the history of the photo shown here; it looks genuine and I think it speaks for itself. It seems to have been posted around the internet quite a lot already, mostly by people who seem to think that it's amusing - yeah, a dead animal that was hit by a plane, oh my sides...

Anyway, not only is there all the stuff to say about the fossil history of long-necked giraffes (a subject we've covered briefly on Ask A Biologist: here), there is also the interesting issue of how giraffes (and other big animals) sleep (again, covered briefly on Ask A Biologist: here). I also plan to cover sivatheres one day. There's also the accidental death data I have on giraffes - you know, when they get struck by lightning, try to walk down slopes or get their necks caught in the forks of trees - and there's the whole issue of whether giraffes can swim or not (we've been thrashing this one out over at Lord Geekington: here). AND I'm still waiting for the paper that splits Giraffa camelopardalis into two species (see ver 1 post here). The 'necks for sex' debate (relevant to various projects on sauropodomorphs and sexual selection in archosaurs) rumbles on. So.. so much to cover, so little time.

More on anurans soon - yay! - but also the world's most amazing sauropod, honest. Keep checking.

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I think Irene Tobler monitored sleep in giraffes and concluded they sleep on their feet and only about 20 minutes per night. I am not aware of any more recent studies. Perhaps I should dig out that paper of hers and write a post about it.

Thanks for the comment. You might be thinking of Tobler & Schwierin (1996). They discussed and confirmed that giraffes do occasionally go into deep sleep while recumbent, with the neck bent and the head resting on the ground. This has not only been photographed in captive giraffes, but also filmed in the wild.

Those interested: note that you heard it on Ask A Biologist first.

Ref - -

Tobler, I. & Schwierin, B. 1996. Behavioural sleep in the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) in a zoological garden. Journal of Sleep Research 5, 21-32.

Captive giraffes also sleep in unusual way, with neck bend in vertical plane and head resting on their buttocks. Late Grzimek described it as "giant kettle".

I wonder what they told the insurance?

I recall a debate on some forgotten group a long time ago of whether or not anyone had tried to ride a giraffe...the end conclusion was no but this spawned some sadly unverified tales of riding tamed moose...Does anyone know anything about this?

Giraffes are quite tamable though.

Look, it's funny in a sort of "oh my god" way. It may actually be the waythe picture is composed.

I doubt anybody thinks the mangled giraffe itself is funny. It's just that the one frame tells a whole story, and the plane's broken wing hints at natural justice.

The Society to Equip Giraffes with Lightning Rods solicits your help. Formation of the corresponding society hoping to augment them with aircraft beacons is stalled pending discovery of a power source for the beacons more reliable than lightning strikes.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 13 Nov 2007 #permalink

Tamed mooses...

You might recall my mention of these in the war rhinos article. Mooses were indeed used as mounts in Siberia prior to 16th century; this practise was curtailed by the extermination of moose riders by the Cossack Yermak Timofeyevich, sent by Ivan the Terrible to conquer Siberia. The Swedish King Charles XI used moose to pull light sleighs, and apparently tried to create a moose cavalry, but it didn't work. Horses are said to panic at the sight or smell of moose, so they might be neat animals to use in warfare (plus they are fast, tall and strong).

All of this information and more is from Valerius Geist's Deer of the World, one of my favourite books. If you ever meet anyone who had read this book, rest assured that they will remember 'that bit about war mooses'. And there endeth the possibility of a Tet Zoo article devoted to the subject...

I once read (in a series of originally Italian childrens' books about, in effect, vertebrates of the world) that there was a Soviet project to domesticate moose that was quite successful. Being a Soviet project, of course, it has apparently vanished without a trace...

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 14 Nov 2007 #permalink

Re giraffes 'sinking like a stone' in Lord Geekington's post: could it be related to the bone density mentioned in your necks for sex post? Kingdon once urged me to pick up a giraffe skull he had (Oxford not Africa!) and it was ridiculously heavy, like lifting a granite boulder. My much bigger Cape buffalo skull probably weighs less!

Re moose: I also heard that they tried to domesticate them in the Soviet era, as well as eland. I wonder why it didn't go on-- Belyalov's fox project is still running even after his death. See

Hey Steve - your comment was the 3000th posted to Tet Zoo ver 2, congrats!

Regarding giraffe bone density, the skulls of male giraffes may well be very dense-boned, but bone density in the giraffe skeleton in general was looked at by van Schalkwyk et al. (2004). They concluded that, while giraffe limb bones are slightly thicker that those of bovids, the bone density of giraffes is otherwise similar to that of other big mammals (their comparisons were with Cape buffalo).

Giraffe were shown crossing a river in flood in Big Cat Diary, but there has been debate as to whether these giraffe were swimming or just wading.

Ref - -

van Schalkwyk, O. L., Skinner, J. D. & Mitchell, G. 2004. A comparison of the bone density and morphology of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and buffalo (Syncerus caffer) skeletons. Journal of Zoology 264, 307-315.

> and apparently tried to create a moose
> cavalry, but it didn't work.

The problem seems to have been that mooses can't stand the sound of gunfire.

> Being a Soviet project, of course, it has
> apparently vanished without a trace...

The Kostroma Moose Farm was still in bussiness in 2003, but the number of animals had been reduced to 33. I don't know how many are left four years later.

According to Russian literature, tame moose were forbidden by Russian tzars because moose-riding locals moved faster than cavalry. In Soviet times, experimental moose farming was ressurected but failed because moose cannot stand summer heat and are hard to feed in large quantities (browsers).

Nevertheless, moose can be ridden perfectly in marshy ground, are extremely easy to tame and females give lots of milk. Coming soon to amusement park near you? ;-)

BTW, in Soviet times, there were some interesting experiments to domesticate new species. Yaks were raised with some success in Siberian tundra. There were talks about crossing sheep and bighorn to obtain tundra-hardy sheep (I would be interested myself why this failed and whether cannot be repeated). People tried to domesticate capercaille . Lots of more bizzare experiments were tried. Unfortunately, information seem to be unreachable for somebody who doesn't read Russian, and any info in Western literature is strangely corrupted to a point of urban legend.

information seem to be unreachable for somebody who doesn't read Russian

Well, I do (slowly, with dictionary, but still). Is any of it available online or something...?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 14 Nov 2007 #permalink

I'm sort of like David on Russian-- only worse. But I'd like any refs-- I know better Russian speakers, and I CAN read Cyrillic and a dictionary..

Oh yeah. Here in Paris I have a native Russian speaker at my disposal.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 15 Nov 2007 #permalink

online... unfortunately, not that I am aware. Russian research from USSR times (lots of interesting stuff and some uninteresting and plainly bizzare) was published only on paper in Russian. It is remarkable, how unknown it was to the Western world. Something unthinkable now in internet age.

Going totally OT, reminds me how my friend mammalologist went for a holiday to Russia and collected some food samples from s**t of sable (Martes zibellina, think sable fur). His short note became a kind of best reference for Western specialists on the species. Nobody in West Europe knew about tons and tons of publications in USSR on this commercially important animal...

BTW, they raised sable in cages, too.

Short info on moose taming you can get in W.E. Sokolow (red.) Zizn Zivotnych, T.7. Mlekopitajuszczie, Moscow, Proswieszczenie, 1989.

...aaaaand back to giraffes - ancient Egyptians kept them as livestock. Dunno if any was ridden.

Egyptian dawn of domestication may be another topic - herds of oryx with deformed horns, roasted hyenas and baboons taught to perform prayers.

The bit about horses panicking at the sight or smell of moose is correct. This can be a problem when riding in forest in Sweden.
Nobody seems to know why horses are afraid of moose though.

By Tommy Tyrberg (not verified) on 16 Nov 2007 #permalink

As for where the photo was taken, the aircraft has a Namibian registry, and both the giraffe and the vegetation indicates northern Namibia. I would guess either Etosha or somewhere in the Caprivi strip.

By Tommy Tyrberg (not verified) on 16 Nov 2007 #permalink


That picture has a very Gary Larson feel to it.

A real-life "The Far Side" strip.

In answer to the questioned posed by Tengu as to whether or not anyone has ever tried to ride a giraffe, the answer is yes. A giraffe was briefly ridden by the late actor Rex Harrison for the 1967 film version of "Doctor Dolittle". I have to admit that I remember the film when it came out and I seem to recall that the trainer was Mary Chipperfield.

For a rather more entertaining picture of a giraffe than the above offering you could try a cover search on "Harrison" and "giraffe" at

Had the jerk been thrown out of his plane by the shock, and would he be lying next to his four-legged victim, well then perhaps the picture would be funny.

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 25 Nov 2007 #permalink

i'm sure someone was flying around and saw the giraffe and thought, i'll fuck up my plane and risk my life by trying to cut off this animals head with my wing.

Christophe Thill, you're an idiot.

By david pasquinelli (not verified) on 28 May 2008 #permalink

i think the plane hit the giraffi in the night,that the pilot coudn`t see the poor animal!

It seems odd to me that the giraffe has fallen backwards of the plane ... or did the plane hit it from the direction it's at currently and bounced back?! The legs kind of indicate that this poor animal may have been spun around from the impact.

idk ... hell to be honest I don't even know how I browsed into this page lol

By Angus MacDonald (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Typed in "Giraffe" in google's images and I got this as the first picture. Not particularly impressed by this picture of the "dead giraffe" It a tragic accident, however I don't know why people feel the need to show pictures like this of dead animals.

i love giraffes and anyone who thinks that picture is funny is sick and twisted. They also need to get a life!

Very unfortunate. Interesting... yes. Funny, NO!
I am a pilot - Such images (and nightmares) of creatures on runways are definitely do be avoided! There is no fault here as EVERY ONE involved wanted to avoid this!
Forensics: Notice the wind sock in the upper right of the image?
Wind-socks denote half-way point of runway length. Cessna is pointing into the wind, this side of sock - - means pilot was (probably) committed in landing stage when giraffe appeared.
By committed I mean laws of physics - there are points in landing and take off where simple physics constrains your maneuvering options.
Trust me - if the pilot could have avoided the giraffe, at any cost short of human life, he would have! (Considering life is at risk for hitting Giraffe...)
My guess is giraffe ran in from off camera. If it was walking... pilot would have seen and applied throttle for go around.

My personal hell is flying gliders in the Cascade Mountains. Came around a peak for final on a high mountain grass strip,..... Turned onto final to see the strip occupied by a herd of Elk! In a glider you are COMMITTED to LANDING. THERE IS NO GO-AROUND.
Quick thinking by another pilot just driving up to the field; saw the elk, saw the situation, blazed down the runway in his car, horn blaring. Drove off/spooked off the elk with seconds to spare. No injuries, no venison.

Giraffe, done deal. Sorry. Unfortunate. Lets hope there were no other injuries.

By Gary Rutledge (not verified) on 03 Sep 2008 #permalink

i think this is horrible and the man who did this should be dead. if u think this is funny u r sick and need 2 get a life

If this were an "ugly" animal that got killed, such as a non-mammalian species, I do not think it would have stirred up as much emotion in people. There is no information to the situation surrounding the incident (if it even happened). If that plane actually did hit that giraffe, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it's an unfortunate incident but there are much more important issues going on in that area of Africa (assuming that one post is correct about northern Namibia), but of course nobody likes to think about that.

that was nasty i hate when it come to blood from and animal

This is a crule thing to do to an animal

i think that is so sad .people should be carefull when they land a plane. if a perso thinks thats funny . GET A LIFE!!!!

thats animal currelity

Why is this particular post such a magnet for such mindless and immature comments? It's already been close to a year.

ou, sad pic :(

thats just horrible...... absolutely repulsive........ makes me wanna throw up

By Tara Trentalange (not verified) on 15 Dec 2008 #permalink

how is that amusing i think its plain torture! how can you even look at that ...and to think it amuses people!?

This is not what I would expect to see when I google giraffe, but then again, I see alot of things today I don't expect to see. You know why? This planet is breeding idiots faster than ever. Poor giraffe. Poor pilot. Accidents happen everyday, but I choose not to ogle them. Move on with me.

This is the saddest thing i have ever seen. I absolutely love giraffes! Who could enjoy that? Well yeah I'm bout to cry seriously maybe even barf! please comment this so if anybody who thinks it is kewl and not cruel will maybe change their mind and see how freaken' horrible they are! So yeah!!!!!!!!!!

what a dick ...

OMG!!! thats SOOOOOOOOOOOOO sad :'(

By Dominique (not verified) on 07 Jan 2009 #permalink

Jan 2009: I am closing comments on this post (initially published November 2007 and, two years later, still attracting comments on how death and dead giraffes should be banned). If you think that this is a mistake let me know, otherwise that's it.

To those emotionally traumatised by the sight of a dead giraffe: there are wildlife charities that need your time and money, go forth and make a difference.