Until about 20 years ago it was thought that giraffes were solitary animals that did not establish strong bonds with their peers, which had been shown for other large mammals, such as elephants.
In a study published in the journal Mammal Review, the biologist’s team Zoe muller from the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) now discards the idea of giraffes as solitary animals, showing that some specimens spend more than 30% of their lives in a post-reproductive state.
It has been shown that the presence of females of post-fertile age has great benefits for the survival of the group
For comparison, other mammalian species with great social complexity, such as elephants and killer whales, spend 23% and 35% of their lives respectively in this post-menopausal state.
In this type of species, it has been shown that the presence of postmenopausal females benefits the survival of their group, in what is known as the grandmother hypothesis.
According to this approach, female mammals –human included– live long after losing their reproductive function, change their role, and help new mothers in caring for their young, thus preserving their genes.
Importance of ‘grandmothers’
The presence of giraffes in post-fertile age in the groups studied would work, according to the authors, in the same way, where the oldest individuals cooperate in the collective rearing of the youngest.
“It is puzzling that an African species as large, iconic and charismatic as giraffes is so little studied,” says Muller, lead author of the paper. “This study gathers evidence to suggest that giraffes are a very complex social species, with intricate social systems. , comparable to those of elephants, cetaceans and chimpanzees ”, he continues.
This research gathers evidence to suggest that giraffes are a highly complex social species, with intricate social systems, comparable to those of elephants, cetaceans, and chimpanzees.
Zoe Muller (University of Bristol)
Zoe Muller also emphasizes the idea that presence of adult females in post-reproductive age is key to creation of social structures complex in ecosystems with a high presence of predators.
“This study is a first step to recognize giraffes as a species socially sophisticated, with groups based on matrilineage ”according to Muller,“ and the conservation measures of the species will be more successful if we have a clear image of how its ecological behavior is ”.
“Understanding giraffes as a complex and intelligent animal will increase the status of the species, and therefore, the measures aimed at its protection,” he concludes.
Zoe Muller et. to the. “A review of the social behavior of the giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis: a misunderstood but socially complex species”. Mammal Review, 2021
Rights: Creative Commons.