Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world and while that gives them some excellent benefits when it comes to reaching the best leaves from the tops of trees, it can also cause some trouble when it comes to drinking.
Giraffes are not able to reach water at ground level from a standing position so when they drink, they have to spread their front legs and bend their knees before they can lower their neck and head and reach the water. This position makes them vulnerable to predators such as lions or crocodiles.
This post describes how, when, and how much giraffes drink and why something as simple as drinking water can be an extremely dangerous activity for giraffes.
How Do Giraffes Drink Water?
Being the world’s tallest animal and having legs and a neck that each measures around 6 feet (1.82 meters) in length certainly has its benefits. In fact, it provides giraffes with an ability that no other African animal has and that is being able to reach the leaves that are found near the tops of trees. Especially acacia trees seem to be a favorite for giraffes who will use their long, flexible tongues to pick the leaves while avoiding the thorns from the acacia trees.
Having such long legs and necks is might be great when it comes to finding and eating fresh leaves but it is not solely advantageous for giraffes and it can actually make the simple yet important task of drinking water quite challenging and even dangerous.
Since giraffes have such long legs and necks, they cannot reach the ground and water from a standing position so they have to spread their front legs and bend their knees slightly and then lower their long neck and head before they can drink water.
In addition to being a somewhat awkward and uncomfortable position to get in and be in for the giraffes, being forced to drink water like this actually also introduces several threats as it makes the giraffes much more vulnerable to predators.
Luckily for the giraffes, their bodies are extremely efficient at absorbing the water that is stored within the leaves, twigs, and other plants that they eat so they do not have to bend over and drink water from water holes and rivers very often as they already obtain large amounts of water through their food.
Giraffes are especially efficient at obtaining water from the plants that they eat during the night or in the very early morning since there is still fresh dew on them or during the rainy season, where there is not only much more fresh vegetation but most of that vegetation also has some rainwater on it.
Why Drinking Water Can Be Deadly For Giraffes
Drinking water may already seem more difficult than it should be for giraffes but there is even more to it.
Perhaps the biggest reason why drinking water can be a challenging task for giraffes is that being bent over with their head facing the ground makes them extremely vulnerable to predators and especially lions and crocodiles have learned that the best time to attack a giraffe is when it is drinking water from a water hole or a river.
Crocodiles are experts and gliding swift and seamlessly through the water without being noticed and they can sometimes get very close to their targets before they even get noticed, and oftentimes it is too late for the unfortunate prey to escape before the crocodile attacks and drags the animal into the water where it is easy for the crocodile to overpower it and make its kill.
Crocodiles are fierce hunters that can kill and eat even large animals such as giraffes. The large size of giraffes does, however, make hunting them more difficult for crocodiles, and when given the opportunity, they will often go after young giraffes that are smaller than fully grown ones and therefore easier to drag into the water and kill.
Lions obviously have a very different hunting strategy than crocodiles since they hunt on land, so when a lion or a group of lions have spotted a giraffe that is drinking water and chosen it to be their hunting target, they will sneak up on the giraffe and get as close as possible before they leap and go in for the kill.
Since they attack from land, lions will attack a drinking giraffe from behind or the sides and can sometimes attempt to jump onto the giraffe’s back when given the chance as they can bite its long neck from this position.
Since giraffes are so vulnerable to predators when they are drinking water, they will make sure to look around carefully to attempt to identify any potential threat before they kneel to drink.
When giraffes stay together in groups, they will often take turns when drinking water, and some of the giraffes will be looking out for predators while the other giraffes are drinking after which they switch.
As you can see, drinking water is not a simple task for giraffes and can in fact be a quite dangerous thing to do. Fortunately for the giraffes, however, they do not need to drink water very often.
How Often And How Much Does a Giraffe Drink?
Giraffes usually drink water every few days but they can actually go much longer without drinking water, especially during dry times or in African regions where they do not have easy access to water holes, rivers, or other sources of water.
In the dry periods or regions of Africa, giraffes can get the vast majority of their water from plants and fresh leaves that they pick from trees. Giraffes are extremely efficient at absorbing the water from these plants and leaves and can sometimes survive for a month without access to other water than what they can obtain through their food.
In some regions of Africa, giraffes barely ever drink from water holes or rivers but will instead obtain the water they need from plants and leaves and will get some additional water by eating at night or in the very early morning when the plants and leaves are covered in fresh dew.
Giraffes drink about 10-12 gallons (38-40 liters) of water every few days but will often get much of it through their food, especially during the rainy season when the plants are covered in water.