What Sound Does a Giraffe Make?
Background on Giraffes
The giraffe is an even-toed ungulate, most closely related to the okapi. The giraffe is also related to deer and cattle and was originally called the camelopard by ancient English speakers. The camelopard name comes from the ancient Greek kamelopardalis (kamelos meaning "camel" and pardalis for "leopard"). Ancient people believed the giraffe resembled a camel with leopard spots.
The word giraffe appears in English from around the 16th century, most likely from the Arabic zurapha. The knob-like appendages on a giraffe's head are called ossicones and are similar to an antelope's horns. Unlike an antelope's horns, however, the giraffe's ossicones are formed from ossified cartilage and entirely covered in skin and fur.
Despite their long neck, giraffes have seven cervical vertebrae - the same number of neck bones that all mammals share. Many people wonder why giraffes do not faint when taking a drink since the animal's head is below its heart for an extended period of time. The reason is simple: the giraffe's blood vessels have valves that prevent blood from rushing to its head when it bends down to take a drink.
The giraffe lives in the savannas of Africa, with a range extending from Chad to South Africa. The preferred food is the Acacia tree, which the giraffe reaches with a long neck and a prehensile tongue. The giraffe's fur has a characteristic scent and may act as a defense mechanism due to anti-parasitic and antibiotic properties. Giraffes are extremely strong, and one swift kick from a giraffe is capable of decapitating a lion.
All of this information is great, but the question remains: what sound does a giraffe make?
Adult Giraffes and Infrasound
Adult Giraffes Whoosh
Adult giraffes do not often make audible noise to human ears, though they certainly have the vocal cords to do so. The myth that adult giraffes are silent, however, is false. New research in bioacoustics shows that adult giraffes use infrasound: a sound that is too low for human ears to detect. Elephants use a similar communication system, inaudible to human ears.
Adult giraffes squeeze air up their long tracheas, and through their larynx (voice box). The sound, if it were audible to human ears, would probably be a whooshing "PSSHHH!" When recorded with specialized equipment, giraffes can be observed moving their long necks and listening to each other as these infrasonic sounds are created.
Baby Giraffes Moo
Giraffes make an audible sound when they are young. A baby giraffe may "moo," especially if it is in a stressful situation. A young giraffe being restrained for a veterinary exam may call out for its mother in distress, making a mooing type of noise. The sound is very similar to a young calf calling out to its mother!
The Final Giraffe Sound Answer
Of the nine different subspecies of giraffe, all are able to make noise. Unfortunately, human ears are simply too insensitive to detect the sounds! Infrasound is able to travel long distances, across the savannas the giraffes must travel in search of food. Researchers (such as Liz von Muggenthaler) are able to record the infrasound and present it in a visual fashion. For the first time in human history, we are finally able to hear an adult giraffe vocalize!