Prayer for the Great Sentinel of the Plains – the Giraffe
They are the great sentinels of the plains, towering ambassadors who root the earth to the sky like no other creature on earth.
“I know of a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back,” wrote Isak Dinesen in “Out of Africa.” It is no coincidence that Isak loved them so much, their languorous strides, their seemingly innocent, inquiring gaze.
They are the greatest antelope on earth and tower over existence with a dancer’s walk. The lion has its ferocity, the elephant its power, and the giraffe, its stride. The giraffe tempers Africa with steps of magnificent nonchalance and alertness befitting its height.
They inspired my son Lysander, 11 years old, to write that they are the “messenger of knowledge itself.”
It was not knowledge the Khedive, the Viceroy of Egypt was after when he sent a giraffe to King Charles X in 1826 as a gift. It was a politically motivated gesture to encourage the French to stop supporting the Greeks under the rule of the Ottomon empire. The giraffe caused a frenzy of fascination as it marched on its final journey from the Mediterranean coast up to Paris. The milk of three cows had to accompany the giraffe on its journey. Its name, Zarafa, in Arabic means “the lovely one.” Its name could not be better chosen.
But today the grace and poise the giraffe embodies is menaced all over Africa. Its numbers have plummeted over the last generation. Some say 40% have disappeared due to hunting and loss of habitat. There may be no more than 80,000 on the entire continent. The bush meat trade has taken its toll due to the fastest growing population on earth, that of Africa.