The Giraffe, Camelopardalis Giraffa

THE creature which forms the subject of this paper is the giraffe, or camelopard (Camelopardalis Giraffa) noted for its wonderful and beautiful form and its remarkable habits.

At the first sight of a giraffe, the spectator is struck by its enormously long neck, and will naturally ask himself how it is supported, and how its mobility is preserved. Every one who has the least acquaintance with anatomy is aware that a strong and very elastic ligament passes down the back of the neck, and acts as a strap by which the head is preserved from falling forward. In the giraffe this ligament (popularly called the paxwax) is of great length and thickness, and is divided into longitudinal halves, and proceeds, not only down the entire neck, but along the back, nearly to the tail. So powerful a band requires correspondingly large attachments; and accordingly we find that the vertebræ of the shoulders send out enormously long perpendicular processes, which give to the shoulder that height which is so eminent a characteristic of the animal. To these processes the ligament of the neck is fastened by accessory bands, which add both to its strength and elasticity.

The natives of Southern Africa make great use of this ligament, which is carefully removed and dried. When the native wishes to make a kaross, or any other article of apparel, he soaks a piece of the ligament in water, and then beats it with a stone. This treatment causes it to split into filaments, which can be worked to almost any degree of fineness, and with these the native sews his leathern dress. I have now before me a piece of this Kaffir thread, as it is called. In its dry state, it is shrivelled and contracted, and no one who was not acquainted with it could guess the purpose to which it was originally devoted.

Although the neck of the giraffe is so enormously long, it only consists of seven vertebræ, as is indeed the rule throughout the mammalia. It seems very remarkable that in the neck of the elephant and of the giraffe there should be precisely the same number of vertebræ. Such, however, is the case, and the difference in length is caused by the great length of those bones in the giraffe, and their shortness and flatness in the elephant.

The giraffe is a swift animal, and even upon level ground will put a horse to its utmost mettle; but on rough and rocky ground, especially if the chase be directed up hill, the horse has no chance against the giraffe, which can hop over the stones with the agility of the goat, and even leap ravines which no horse will dare to face. So energetic is the animal when chased, and so violently is the tail switched from side to side, that the long, stiff hairs hiss sharply as they pass through the air.

Sometimes, but very rarely, the giraffe will miss its footing and fall to the ground; but it recovers itself immediately, and is on its feet before much advantage can be taken of the mishap. When it lies down intentionally, it is obliged to pack up its legs in a manner which seems extremely awkward, although the animal can lie or rise with perfect ease; and, like the camel, it possesses callosities upon the knees and breast, on which it rests while reposing.

The height of the giraffe is rather variable, but on an average is from twelve to eighteen feet.