Scientist Ciska Scheijen, who has been studying giraffes in the Rockwood Protected Area in South Africa over the past year over the past year, has described two cases of what appears to be a very special death, in some ways unexpected, in a new article published in the African Journal of Ecology: due to lightning.
The idea that the tallest animal in the world can acting as a lightning rod is not new and this fact is certainly known, but scientists have only now described the circumstances in detail for the first time. On February 29 this year, the Rockwood Conservation Area experienced a strong but brief storm, with lightning strikes and heavy rain.
The day before, a herd of eight park giraffes had been seen together, while the day after the storm the herd consisted of just six giraffes. A 5-year-old female and an even younger specimen were found dead just meters away. Since they were not found far from where they were observed the day before the storm, it is likely that the two specimens died during the storm.
An examination of the giraffe’s skull noted a distinctive large fracture: a sign of direct lightning. Scheijen and Rockwood ranger Frans Moleko Kaweng reported a strong smell of ammonia and were surprised that the carcasses had not been eaten despite being there for a day and a half. Probably because the smell of ammonia kept scavenger animals away.
Scheijen suspects that, since the giraffes weren’t near tall trees, the horns (called ossicones) of the oldest giraffe, more than 2 meters high, have attracted the lightning. The youngest female found 7 meters away, however, she was probably the victim of a side lightning strike. “I wouldn’t say that ossicones per se act as a lightning rod, but the towering height of the giraffes could“Scheijen tells IFLScience.”If they are the highest point nearby, then they are likely to be the ones at greatest risk in the area of being struck by lightning“.