Two new articles reveal that giraffe have more in common with nonhuman primates than often assumed. In the June 2013 issue of African Journal of Ecology (Vol. 51, pp. 206-216 & 376-379) CICASP Professor Fred Bercovitch and colleagues demonstrate how social relationships influence herd formation and response to death.
Using 34 years of data collected from a population of Thornicroft’s giraffe (G. c. thornicrofti, Lydekker 1911) residing in South Luangwa, Zambia, Bercovitch and his co-author, Phillip S. M. Berry, found that giraffe herd composition is based upon long-term social associations that often reflect kinship. Mother/offspring dyads had the strongest associations, which persisted for years, but female giraffe often had non-related friends in their herds. Giraffe live in a complex society characterized by marked flexibility in herd size, with giraffe herds sharing many characteristics of fission–fusion social systems, such as found among chimpanzees. In the second paper, Bercovitch shows that mother/offspring bonds might begin at birth. Upon the death of her newborn calf, a mother spent hours guarding the carcass. Giraffes, like African elephants, savanna baboons, Japanese macaques, chimpanzees, and other animals could be capable of not only perceiving death, but of displaying emotional states suggestive of grief.