This morning, on my last wildlife drive here at Mombo Trails, before I fly to another camp in a different area of Botswana, we come across all that remains of a dead giraffe: a sun bleached jaw-bone. The death most likely the result of a long chase, and fatal bite to the jugular. Probably from a lion. After the big cat pride had taken their fill, others – jackals, hyena, vultures – would have cleaned up the remains.
To my eye there is nothing left. But one spotted hyena disagrees. She patiently whittles away at a slimy, saliva softened patch of bone. “For much needed calcium,” Seko, my guide, says. Hyenas live in packs but she won’t announce this meal to her clan – too much effort for very little reward. We leave her be.
A few minutes further along the dirt road we spot another dead giraffe. “Around 25 years of age,” according to Seko, “an old male.”
We stare at the fallen being. His stomach entrails are spilled outside of it’s cavity (possibly the work of one hyena) but otherwise the giraffe is intact.
Every day animals die here in the wild, but it’s rare to see a whole dead animal. Every animal is food to someone else, devoured quickly and completely, rarely leaving a trace.
This giraffe had died peacefully. For his entire life, and in his final weakened state of old age, he had beaten the odds. He had avoided being taken down by lions, fatally kicked by other male giraffes, or killed by bush meat poachers. Unusual for the African bush.
Instead he had laid down in this open circle of grass edged by shrubs, his long neck stretched against the earth and land he had called home for a quarter of a century, and taken his last breath.
Seko tells me he knows this giraffe. “This male was the first giraffe I learned to recognize when I started guiding in this area about eight years ago.” There’s a sadness in Seko’s voice. He has lost a friend.
I wonder who, besides Seko (and me), notice that this great giraffe being is gone? Did this guy have friends, family or loved ones? Did any of them witness his passing three days earlier?
Loneliness – for the giraffe, for myself – envelops me.
Elephants continue to visit the bones of dead family members, ritualistically mingling among the remains as a part of their process of letting go of the deceased. Do giraffes have a similar ritual?
No matter, death is a solo act.
Seko’s friend had, I imagined, lived an elegant and wonderful life before dying with peace and dignity.
That’s the best we can hope for.
Later, I wonder if the hyena we had seen had yet realized that a few minutes walk from the jaw-bone lay a whole meal for the taking – an elegant gentle giant waiting to be reintegrated into the Botswana sand and earth from which he originated.
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