You might remember one of our recent Stay At Home Safari videos featured a giraffe calve that had only been born about one hour before Craig filmed it (view it here). This was the inspiration behind this blog, because the way giraffes care for their newborns is quite interesting.
Giraffes that are unrelated do not typically form strong bonds, the only real bonds occur between a mother and her newborn calf. Females spend more time with other females, especially when they have babies, while males tend to roam freely. Unlike elephants, giraffes do not have a permanent herd, they usually spend time together temporarily.
However, the exception is when there are giraffe calves involved and the mothers form creches. They do this so that they can take it in turns to roam for food and drink while another mother looks after the little ones.
Giraffes breed throughout the year and have a gestation period of a whopping 15 months! Typically, the mother will remove herself from her herd and give birth in isolation. As you’ll have noticed in our video, despite only being one hour old, the calve was able to stand and walk. As Craig mentioned, giraffe calves are extremely vulnerable to predators and the mothers tend to try get them to move to a more protected place as soon as possible.
Being young and not yet sure-footed, the baby is unable to go with its mother in search of food. It is sometimes left lying in thickets or long grass relying on its camouflage for protection, while the mother roams for food that is essential to her ability to produce milk.
Once the calf becomes steadier on its feet, it can move around more. However, the mother is still restricted in how far she can roam in search of food. This is usually the time when they form a creche for their babies. Mothers with similar aged calves are likely to associate and their babies stick together. The babies are protected by one of the mothers while the others can go further in search of food. In these groups, the baby giraffes perform a nosing ceremony. This is a bonding ceremony where the babies rub their noses up against each other and then jump apart.
When the babies are approximately 4 months old, they can then accompany their mothers. At about 2 years old, after the birth of a sibling, the bond between the mother and firstborn calf relaxes, and it roams freely as other giraffes do.