UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The behavior of giraffe groups with calves is influenced more strongly by the risk of predators than is the behavior of all-adult groups, which is mostly determined by the availability of food, according to an international team of researchers from Penn State and the University of Zürich. The researchers studied giraffe behavior in a 2,000-square-kilometer region of Africa and pinpointed some of the special requirements needed by mother giraffes to keep their babies safe.
A paper describing the research, which can help land managers to protect the habitats most important for giraffes, appears online in the journal Oecologia.
“Like all herbivores, giraffes need to find quality food to survive, but also need to avoid lions, or at least see them coming,” said Monica Bond, doctoral candidate from the University of Zürich and lead author of the paper. “Giraffes in our huge, unfenced study area can choose from among many different places to spend their time — places with different kinds of trees and bushes, places deep inside protected parks, or places closer to farming towns or ranchlands where people live. There are lots of options in this landscape, including fewer lions outside the parks versus inside. So, we wondered how do these options influence giraffe grouping behavior?”
The study found that groups composed of only adult giraffes were food-focused and not affected by predation risk. These adult groups formed the largest groups — up to 66 individuals — in the rainy season when food is plentiful, but formed smaller groups during the dry season when food is harder to find. In contrast, predation risk was a very important factor influencing groups of giraffes with calves.