Giraffes Are More Complex Than We Thought

Macie Deleon Animals /
Giraffes complex social relationships
TONY KARUMBA / Contributor via Getty Images

It's no secret that animals, including elephants and chimpanzees, are highly intelligent and social creatures. They have bonds with each other, communicate, and care for one another in almost human-like ways. And thanks to developing research, we now know there's another complex species in the wild: giraffes.

Complex species, social animals
SHAHZAIB AKBER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Scientists previously believed giraffes to be quite detached animals, incapable of strong and long-lasting relationships. But studies over the past decade reveal that there's much more to these long-necked animals than initially meets the eye. It turns out giraffes are rather complicated and social creatures, much more intertwined with one another than initially thought. The most recent conclusions show that the species might have daycares, a consistent lunch partner, and committed relationships.

Animal news, science news
Anette Mossbacher/Solent News/Shutterstock

According to Zoe Muller of the University of Bristol, giraffes spend roughly 30% of their lives in a post-reproductive stage, a ratio comparable to the likes of elephants and killer whales who live long past menopause. Muller's observations, which were published in Mammal Review, conclude that older giraffes in their post-reproductive phase act as caretakers to younger animals. Referred to as the "grandmother hypothesis," such caretaking systems are also seen in elephants and other complex mammals and ensure the group's survival.

giraffes relationships, families, bonds
Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock

Muller reported that the older female giraffes co-parent with others and form "daycares," watching over and feeding others' children. While we previously thought these animals don't have long-lasting relationships with each other, that's apparently far from reality. The animals eat lunch together with a "buddy," have long-term bonds, protect dead calves, and keep close ties with family members, mainly moms and grandmas.

grandmother hypothesis, giraffes
Sue Ogrocki/AP/Shutterstock

Muller stated that the animal should be thought of as "intelligent, group-living mammals which have evolved highly successful and complex societies, which have facilitated their survival in tough, predator-filled ecosystems." Changing the world's perspective on giraffes could have positive consequences, especially for those subspecies that are currently endangered.

animals with strong bonds
Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock

"If we view giraffes as a highly socially complex species, this also raises their 'status' towards being a more complex and intelligent mammal that is increasingly worthy of protection," Zoe Muller explained.

We'll make sure to keep you updated on any more ground-breaking research.