Giraffe Skull, Giraffa camelopardalis
Dr Phil Cox, former PhD student at the Museum of Zoology, writes:
No visitor to the Museum can fail to notice the mounted giraffe skeleton on display in the lower gallery, towering over the other mammal skeletons. It is great to be able to stand next to the giraffe to get a feel for just how tall these creatures actually are. However, because of its height, it is difficult to get a good look at the giraffe’s skull. Therefore, the specimen I have chosen is not the mounted skeleton, but the adult male giraffe skull in the nearby cabinet that is conveniently displayed at (human) eye-level. From this perspective it is much easier to see just how large and impressive the giraffe skull is. I can also confirm that it is extremely heavy. As part of my PhD, which was an investigation into the bone structure in and around the eye-socket in mammals, I wanted to examine and measure the giraffe skull. It required two people (Ray Symonds, the collections manager at the time, and myself) to lift it off the shelf and on to a nearby table. It is the weight of the skull and the length of the neck that enable male giraffes (bulls) to use their heads as club-like weapons during duels known as ‘necking’. Such contests occur between male giraffes in order to establish dominance, and involve the bulls swinging their necks and trying to hit each other with their ossicones (the horn-like structures on the top of the head). Having experienced the weight of this specimen first-hand, I was not surprised to find out that a well-placed blow from the head can knock a fully-grown bull completely off-balance.