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JOURNAL OF NATURAL HISTORY.
THE GIRAFFE, (Camelopardalis Giraffa, GMEL.)
THE history of the Giraffe affords one of the most striking examples of the slow and uncertain progress of Natural History, and strongly points out the necessity of unwearied research and repeated observation to ensure its advancement. Indeed it appears scarcely credible that the quadruped which exceeds
every other in its lofty stature, which bears so remote a resemblance to any in its extraordinary proportions, and is equalled by so few in the beauty of its colouring, should have remained till within sixty years of the present time so obscurely known as to have had its very existence cast into doubt. But the descriptions of this animal which appeared in the middle ages having been overlooked, the more ancient notices, vague and imperfect as they in general were, while they seemed to ascribe to the camelopardalis a combination of the characteristics of a ferocious beast of prey with those of the harmless ruminant, began at length to be regarded with the same degree of distrust as the fabulous narratives of the unicorn and sphinx.
In the year 1770, after three centuries and a half had elapsed without any example of the giraffe, dead or alive, having appeared in Europe, this impression seems to have become so general, that the Royal Society thought it proper to publish in their Transactions the simple recital of a traveller who had himself seen and procured a representation of the living giraffe. Capt. Carteret, in his communication to that learned body, says, “Inclosed I have sent you the drawing of a camelopardalis, as it was taken off from the life, of one near the Cape of Good Hope. I shall not attempt here to give you any particular description of this scarce and curious animal, as it is much better known to you than it can be to me; but from its scarcity, as I believe none have been seen in Europe since Julius Cæsar's time (when I think there
Zool. Mag. No. 1.
were two of them at Rome), I imagine its drawing, and a more certain knowledge of its reality, will not be disagreeable to you. As the existence of this fine animal has been doubted by many, if you think it may afford any pleasure to the curious, you will make what use of it you please.” He goes on to say, that a party of men sent by the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope on an inland discovery, found two of these creatures; but they caught only the young one, from which the drawing was taken, and the skin of which was sent to Holland “as a confirmation of the fact. *"
Ten years after this announcement of the actual existence of the giraffe, the skin of a fine male specimen was brought to this country by Lieut. Paterson, by whom it had been shot in the interior of Caffraria. This skin was presented to the celebrated John Hunter, and still forms part of his collection preserved at the Royal College of Surgeons t. It was the first example of the remains of the camelopardalis ever brought into England, and excited the greatest interest at the time. Since that period, however, fresh specimens have been rapidly added to the different European collections of Natural History, the results of exploratory journeys in the interior of Africa effected by modern zeal and enterprise; but it was only within a very few years that the habits and gait of this extraordinary species could in modern Europe be again contemplated in the living animal.
The Pasha of Egypt having learnt that the Arabs of the province of Sennaar in Nubia had succeeded in bringing up two young giraffes with camel's milk, caused them to be brought to Cairo ; and after resting for three months in his gardens, to prepare them for a journey of greater difficulty and hazard, they were embarked in boats and conveyed down the Nile to Alexandria, where they were consigned to the English and French consuls, as presents from the Pasha to their respective sovereigns.
These young giraffes were both females; but as there was some difference in their size, the consuls of each nation drew lots for them, when the shortest and weakest fell to the lot of England. The giraffe destined for our sovereign was conveyed to Malta under the charge of two Arabs, and was from thence forwarded to London in a merchant vessel, and arrived on the 11th of August 1827. The animal was conveyed to Windsor two days after in a spacious caravan, and was lodged
Phil. Trans. vol. lx.
+ Paterson's Travels in Africa, p. 127. A minute and interesting account of the arrival and conveyance of this giraffe may be found in the Literary Gazette, August 23rd, 1827.
in a commodious but, with the range of a spacious paddock, in the late king's private menagerie at Sandpit Gate. Shortly after its arrival at this place it was accurately measured; and its dimensions were found to be
From the top of the head to the bottom of the hoof.
It was at that time exceedingly playful; but as its growth proceeded, which was rapid (having increased eighteen inches in less than two years), it became much less active; its health evidently declined; its legs almost lost their power of supporting the body; the joints seemed to shoot over ; and at Tength the weakness increased to such a degree, that it became necessary to have a pulley constructed, which, being suspended from the ceiling of the animal's hovel, was fastened round its body, for the purpose of raising it on its legs without any exertion on its own part. From the harmless disposition and uniform gentleness of this animal, the interest which it had excited in His late Majesty was very great ; but notwithstanding every attention, it died in the following year. Its food was barley, oats, split beans, and ash leaves. It was never observed to drink any other fluid than milk, its preference for which probably arose from that fluid being so long the only sustenance afforded it while living among the Arabs.
Owing to the distance from town at which this animal was kept, and the state of confinement which its weakly condition rendered indispensable during the latter period of its existence, the living giraffe was seen in this country by comparatively few individuals. The skin, however, and skeleton, both beautifully prepared, are preserved in the Museum of the Zoological Society,—the munificent donations of His present Majesty,
The full-grown male giraffe is reported to be sometimes nearly twenty feet high, from the summit of the head to the sole of the foot. The highest specimen, however, in the British Museum, (which is a beautiful male brought over by Mr. Burchell,) measures seventeen feet six inches; the remainder do not exceed sixteen feet. The greatest peculiarity in this animal, and what most strikes the eye of the observer, is the remarkable disproportion of the different parts of its frame. The head and the trunk are of extreme shortness, especially when compared with the neck and legs, which are
as disproportionately elongated. The trunk, for example, is divided into three equal parts, the fore and hind quarters having respectively the same length as the intermediate division,-a circumstance which occurs in no other quadruped. To this curtailed trunk are attached legs of extreme length, which, if they were of the ordinary proportions, would have rendered the giraffe the swiftest of animals: but the contrary is, in some measure, the result; for while the fore and hind pair of legs are too closely approximated, they are also of unequal length, and this inequality is so disposed as to retard swiftness of motion. The hare and the greyhound have the hinder legs the longest; and, as these are the principal propellers in locomotion, hence results the peculiar and proverbial swiftness of these quadrupeds; but in the giraffe, the proportions of the extremities are reversed, and, consequently, when compelled to flight, although from his superior stature he can, for a short distance, outstrip his pursuers, yet he soon grows weary, and becomes incapable of sustaining a prolonged chase.
From the time of Heliodorus bishop of Tricca, to the present day, the peculiar gait of the giraffe has been noticed, and is described by most authors as a sort of natural amble. That ancient writer, in his work entitled Ethiopica, written in the fourth century of the Christian æra, observes: “The ambassadors of the Axeomitæ (Abyssinians) brought presents to Hydaspes; and among other things, there was an animal of a strange and wonderful species, about the size of a camel, which had its skin marked with florid spots; the hinder parts, from the loins, were low, like those of a lion ; but the shoulders, fore-feet, and breast, were elevated above proportion to the other parts; the neck was small, and lengthened out from its large body like that of a swan ; the head, in form, resembled a camel's, but was in size about twice that of a Libyan ostrich; and it rolled the eyes, which had a film over them, very frightfully. It differed in gait from every other animal, terrestrial or aquatic, and waddled in a remarkable manner ; each leg was not moved alternately and diagonally, but those on the right side moved together independently of the other, and those on the left side in the same manner, so that each side was alternately elevated. This animal was so tractable as to be led by a small string fastened to the head, and the keeper could conduct it whereever he pleased, as if by the strongest chain.” Similar testimony respecting the gait of the giraffe is given by Antonio Constanzio, an Italian author, who describes the giraffe presented to Lorenzo de Medici by the Soldan of Egypt, and