AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Giraffe

An Electrifying Tragedy: The Death of Two Giraffes

On March 2nd, two giraffes were found dead after a thunderstorm in Rockwood, which is a private nature reserve to the west of Kimberely, South Africa. The elder, a five year old female, had a fractured skull as well as a broken ossicone (knoblike horns). These injuries indicate she had died after a direct lightning strike to the head. The second giraffe, a four year old female, was found dead  about 23 feet away from the first giraffe. There are no visible injuries on the second giraffe.

According to Ciska P.J. Scheijen, a student in the Department of Animal, Wildlife, and Grassland Sciences, wrote a paper describing the event. In the African Journal of Ecology, Scheijen describes four ways lightning can kill an animal. It can strike the animal directly, as seen in the older giraffe. It can hit as a “side flash”, which is when the lightning arches into the animal’s body after striking a nearby object. It can also kill through “touch potential” (when the animal is in contact with a lightning-struck object) or “step potential” (when the animal is in contact with lightning-struck ground). It can be inferred that the second giraffe either died from a side flash or step potential.

The giraffes were in an area without trees, making them the tallest things in the area. Knowing this, I bet you and I are wondering the same question. Yes, “Do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals?” The question we all need answered!

There have been a few incidents of giraffes dying of lightning strikes, including one at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. However, there aren’t any real concrete numbers to determine a conclusion.

Yet, Universiti Putra Malaysia electrical engineer Chandima Gones wrote a paper on animal lightning strikes. He states that “animals with a large separation between their front and back feet…are vulnerable to receive lightning injuries due to the dangerous potential differences that may built up between these feet…” Gomes also writes how taller animals (lik giraffes) are more likely to be victims of side flashes and touch potential if near a lightning struck tree. Without clear cut numbers, though, it’s hard to be sure if giraffes are struck at higher rates than other animals.

But there’s another factor involved in the deaths of the two giraffes back in March that is important. There was a thunderstorm. It was raining.

Water is a covalently bonded molecule containing two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. It is a polar molecule because oxygen is more electronegative than hydrogen. Water has many cool properties. For example, it has an unusually high specific heat, making it harder to change its temperature. Because of this specific heat, it allows living creatures that are largely made of water (like us) to resist drastic changes in the body. Water keeps us alive.

Water is an extremely important molecule for life, including our own. However, when electrocuted, it could very well kill us. We all know we shouldn’t swim in a thunderstorm, but did you know wet skin has 100 times less resistance than dry? That’s right: the amount of water in the body is a huge factor in whether or not you would survive an electrical shock.

Of course, the giraffes didn’t know this. They couldn’t find shelter during the thunderstorm that ultimately led to their own demise. While we may never know if giraffes are more susceptible to electrical shocks by lightning, we do know it’s wise not to mix water and electricity.

Giraffes, Giraffes, Giraffes, and More Giraffes


On the left is the Southern giraffe, while on the right is the Northern giraffe. They look the same but are genetically different.

Previously there was thought to be only one giraffe species, but recently with the help of genetic testing there are now four confirmed giraffe species. To make this amazing discovery, Scientists from the Senckenberg and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation utilized several nuclear marking genes on over 100 giraffes and analyzed the genetic relationship between all major species in the wild. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation collected more than 100 biopsy samples over the past decades from all areas of Africa, including war torn regions. They then sent the samples to the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre for analysis. The nuclear genes, which are genes found in the nucleus of Eukaryotes, were different enough in each group that it reveals how different species do not mate with each other. The four distinct species that were discovered are the southern giraffe, masai giraffe, reticulated giraffe, and northern giraffe. Besides demonstrating four groups, the scientists concluded from the data that some sub-species are in fact the same. The discovery highlights the need for greater conservation efforts for the overall giraffe species. While giraffes are already close to extinction, the idea that there are now four species exacerbates the issue as they are even closer to losing each diverse group.  With the giraffe species declining over 40% in the last 30 years to the point of only 68,000 of them left in the wild.

More Than One Type of Giraffe?

It has recently been found that there are four distinct types of giraffes when we only thought there was one. This was found through an analyses that used several nuclear marker genes of more than 100 animals. The giraffe population has decreased by over 35% in the last 30 years so these animals are becoming endangered. And as it turns out these 4 species of giraffes only mate with giraffes of the same species. These giraffes are primarily located throughout Africa. This recent study has proved that we don’t know everything about these animals. In order to help increase the giraffe population people who mate giraffes now need to know that there are 4 distinct species of giraffes and that these 4 species only mate with the same species. hopefully this new data will help improve the population size of giraffes and help prevent them from becoming endangered.


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