Typically perceived as gentle giants munching away on leaves, giraffes may be due for an image makeover.
“I watched two adult giraffes kneel down and mouth the carcass, as well as actually lift it off the ground and then drop it,” says Kendall, who has received funding from the National Geographic Society for her work on vultures.
A giraffe munching on a wildebeest carcass may seem unusual, but another giraffe was recently videotaped licking the skull of a buffalo.
Scientists suspect both instances are a form of osteophagy, or bone-eating, which likely provides plant-eating mammals with skeleton-enriching elements such as calcium and phosphorus. Phosphorus, for instance, is not found in plants but is necessary for life.
The world's tallest animal may be especially driven toward osteophagy because their bodies are mostly made up of bone.
Giraffes are probably not crunching on the bones, but gently gnawing on them, says John Doherty, a giraffe expert from Queen’s University Belfast. Most herbivores don't have the jaw strength to crack and pulverize bones. (See rare pictures of cannibalistic animals.)
“Giraffes engage routinely, but not commonly, in this behavior. I might only see it half a dozen times a year after being in the field almost all of the time.”
So why was this male giraffe was tossing the dead wildebeest in the air?
“Giraffes are fascinated by carcasses,” adds Doherty. (Go inside the fight to stop giraffes' 'silent extinction.')
He notes he frequently observes giraffes licking and picking up bones with their incredibly dexterous lips.
The wildebeest corpse still happened to be connected by sinew when the giraffe went for it.
“I’d say the behavior here is ‘accidentally’ dramatic.”