The giraffe is not only the tallest land mammal on earth but also one of the most beloved iconic symbols of Africa. These majestic creatures are known to be peaceful in manner with an elegant and graceful appearance. With such a great reputation, I have never met anyone that do not love giraffes and seeing them during a safari is always a great highlight. While these facts are true majority of the time, there are still those rare instances and moments when Mother Nature suddenly reveals a whole different side to these creatures that most people have not seen before.
I was leading a safari in the Kruger National Park when we came across a large herd of giraffes that gathered on an open plains area. Seeing many giraffes together always attracts a lot of attention. I decided to switch of the vehicle and spend some time watching these fascinating creatures going about their day. I scanned the area and to my one side I saw two males standing closely together in a side on position. While they were just standing there, I realized that these two male giraffes were locked into what is called a necking battle. Giraffes are not territorial and a local status hierarchy develops according to age and size. This is established through the ritual necking encounters among bachelors from an early age. Majority of the time these duels are not violent and seem like a well synchronized elegant dance and the ultimate intention is for one bull to thrust his neck sideways, making well-placed blows with his horns and knobby head on the opponent’s body while the two animals stand head-to-rump. These fights usually end with the youngest or smallest of the two contenders walking away in order to prevent any serious injuries. When two equally matched bulls are contending for an oestrus cow, it becomes a totally different story and things can become seriously violent.
When one of the male giraffes started shoving the other male giraffe into a very thorny tree, I realized that this fight was serious and there was nothing elegant or graceful about it. I grabbed my camera and started filming the event. The one bull managed to realize himself from being shoved into the thorns with a neck swing, hitting his opponent on the body with a serious blow. The two giraffes then stood firmly against each other, sizing each other up with a few mocking attempts. I noticed that the fight was intensifying with the dominant bull starting to use a much more dangerous approach than the usual neck sweeping. The dominant bull used short and very quick backward bursts of the head, hitting his opponent between the junction of his skull and spine with his powerful horns. The dominant bull managed to repeatedly hit his opponent on the same spot, causing a serious open wound. The sound of the blows falling was just unbelievable. A few more blows were exchanged when suddenly, one giraffe fell straight to the ground like a bag of potatoes. I was totally stunned by what I saw and realized the fallen giraffe was knocked out clean. What amazed me even more was the behaviour of the dominant bull afterwards. With his opponent lying ‘lights out ‘on the ground, the winning male surprisingly went and stood on his opponents’ body with one foot. It looked like the dominant giraffe took some sort of a victorious stance, celebrating the victory over his opponent. I was totally speechless by what I saw. With all my years living in the African bush, this was the very first time I have ever saw something like this and will remember it forever.