According to Jessica Granweiler, a master’s student at the University of Manchester in England who studies the world’s tallest animals, giraffes don’t engage in much fighting. When they do, be on the lookout.
The hornlike pairs of ossicones on the backs of older adult males’ heads push with the power of their long necks and may cut into the flesh of their opponents, injuring and occasionally killing them in the process.
Some kinds of giraffe duelling, on the other hand, are used for different reasons. The findings of Ms. Granweiler and her colleagues were published last month in the journal Ethology, and they included some new information on giraffe fighting behaviour that may be used to help them build social hierarchies. They demonstrated that the animals did not take advantage of the weaker members of their herds, but rather exercised their head butts with males of comparable size in manners that would seem fair or noble to a human.
From November 2016 to May 2017, Ms. Granweiler and her colleagues studied the social behaviour of giraffes in the Mogalakwena River Reserve in South Africa, a small reserve with just a few hundred acres. They started keeping track of the specifics of these battles — essentially a who-fought-who and how-fought-who in the giraffe world.
In their research, they discovered that giraffes, like humans, may be either right-handed or left-handed when it comes to fighting. Even the smallest animals showed a definite preference, however, unlike humans, it seemed that they were equally divided between lefties and righties in terms of preference.
Also seen by the researchers was that the younger men sparred more with one other and almost always picked opponents who were comparable in size to themselves – there was little bullying going on. There was also a bar brawl effect going on, when one sparring battle appeared to infect the audience and inspire additional fights to erupt in the area surrounding them.
The sparring styles of the younger men were also a bit different. It seemed probable that they were practising technique at the time, said Ms. Granweiler, who was an undergraduate student at the time of the work. As they swung their heads against one other’s chests and buttocks, it’s possible that they were assessing their own strength in comparison to their peers.
Adults of a certain age sparred as well, although they spent more time pushing their necks together in wrestling bouts than in other sports. As a result of such encounters, Ms. Granweiler believed that they were evaluations of each other’s power without resorting to full-blown fights.
Female researchers have also discovered that the majority of male fighters respect their opponents’ choice regarding which side to fight from. If two southpaws were to confront each other, for example, they would match up head to tail. If one opponent was a right-handed fighter and the other was a left-handed fighter, they would line up head to head.