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Why Is the Giraffe Eating an Impala Skull?


A giraffe gnawing on an impala skull, presumed to be for the minerals. Image credit: Rene van der Schyff.

From the photograph above, you can see a giraffe having an impala skull in its mouth. Just with the photo itself, its motivation can not be identified, but now there are a large amount of evidences to show some giraffes that have preference in osteophagia, in another word, bone eating.

As tall as giraffe, sometimes it needs some extra calcium to be taken easily in particular. However, many other animals engage in osteophagia occasionally. As a rich and necessary source of phosphorus and calcium, animals would take what they need from bones, no what which category they fall into–carnivore, herbivore or omnivore.

Despite the name, it is rare for osteophags to eat the entire bone – especially, the bones from animals of similar size like their own. However, they can take the necessary nutrients through gnawing on bones, antlers or even ivory.

The cases of large ungulates gnawing bone have been reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science. However, the process is still a mystery to some extent. One study showed that the fluids in the stomachs of ruminants would be unable to get remarkable significant amounts of minerals from their reaction. It seems that giraffes have to do it more than other ruminants.

Some giraffes are more likely to resort to exotic eating than others. One pure Rothschild’s giraffe named as Tony, at Werribee Open Plains Zoo in Australia was notorious for eating dead rabbits before the eyes of the visitors. When talking about its behavior, Goldie Pergl, former visitor experience officer at Werribee said that from its action, you would note that although giraffes were herbivores and they would do it on occasion. However to everyone’s surprise, it would then get near to the car and begin eating the rubber off the windscreen wipers. On the contrary, other giraffes at the same zoo would seldom do the same.

The photo is one of many superb images by Rene van der Schyff of African wildlife near her home.

However, if you’d prefer some live action see below.

Source: io9.

Journal reference: Hutson, Jarod M., Chrissina C. Burke, and Gary Haynes. “Osteophagia and bone modifications by giraffe and other large ungulates.” Journal of Archaeological Science 40.12 (2013): 4139-4149.

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