Giraffes think and evaluate their opponent before a sparring match.
And they don’t cheat!
It’s well documented that male giraffes fight and they can be very brutal. But luckily they don’t do that very often.
However sparring matches between two males are part of a ritual performed during the mating season. But in a surprising example of fair play rarely seen, the giraffes think about their opponent and make a decision to make the fight fair!
Firstly the male giraffe will select another male of similar size.
Then they decide how they will position themselves by respecting their opponent’s laterality. If one giraffe’s neck swing is right-oriented and the other giraffe’s swing is left-oriented, they stand head to head so they can attack each other from their preferred sides. If both are left-oriented or right-oriented, they fight head to tail to keep the fight fair.
The researchers who studied this behaviour never saw a male try to cheat the rules. But maybe that was because mature giraffe bulls often played the role of ‘referees’ during fights between young adults, and quickly intervene if violence escalates, with the most dominant bull being responsible for the majority of the interventions.
One way to tell if a giraffe is a male or a female, is to check their horns (they are actually called ossicones). The horns of a male are often bald which means it fights….so it’s a male.
Scientists believe that their sparring behaviour is a way to test their competitive abilities without escalating to dangerous, full-scale fights.
It shows a surprising example of fair play that is rarely seen in animal species.