My friend John over at ASWOBA has pointed me to a great new web site, one I'd encourage all of you to check out. It's called Animal Review. It contains scientifically accurate discussions about various animals leavened with huge amounts of (what seems to me very male) smart-aleck humor. ("The central difference between Israel and skunks is the fact that Israel has never admitted to own any nukes, whereas skunks paint themselves black and give themselves white racing stripes as a way of advertising that, yes, they are skunks, yes, they’re ready to mess you up bad.")
This introduction to the giraffe is worth quoting at length.
The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis, lit. ‘Tiny, but said ironically’) is Nature’s concept car. Large and impractical, the giraffe was never meant for mass production, but some executive fell in love with it at Detroit’s annual Animal Show a few years back, and giraffes have been losing money ever since.
Massive ungulates and the tallest of the land animals, giraffes can be up to 18 feet tall and 3,800 pounds, and about two thirds of that is neck. Like most mammals, the neck of a giraffe has seven vertebrae, though in the giraffe each is elongated and covered in tacky chrome plating. Looking to justify the expense, the neck was put to use for getting leaves off acacia trees on the Africa plains, which was sold in the giraffe marketing campaign with the slogan ‘Whether in the Whole Foods produce aisle or on the Serengeti Plain – you’ll never go hungry.’ And then, in a truly gauche moment of designing nonsense, the giraffe’s head was topped with two ridiculous-looking cartilage horns.
As with most concept designs, the enormity of the giraffe created more problems than it was worth. To move blood against gravity up the neck, a giraffe requires a two-foot heart. It requires special anchor muscles to keep the neck upright. It requires a complex pressure regulation system in the upper neck to prevent blood flow to the brain when the giraffe bends over to fill up. It also requires a tight sheath of thick skin over its legs to keep the capillaries from bursting due to the blood pressure such a neck height creates. All this requires energy. Too bad, acacia trees.
As one might suspect, the giraffe’s size isn’t the advantage the guy at the dealership says it is. Sure, giraffes can eat from trees, and most predators leave them alone, but it’s not uncommon for lions to give it a go at knocking a giraffe off its feet. Then these very same lions will promptly eat the giraffe. As a rule of thumb, once one thing goes wrong with your giraffe, several other things are likely to follow. Repairs are famously expensive, and a certified giraffe mechanic can sometimes clear six figures a year.