The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis, lit. ‘Tiny, but said ironically’) is Nature’s concept car. Large and impractical, the giraffe was never meant for mass production, but some executive fell in love with it at Detroit’s annual Animal Show a few years back, and giraffes have been losing money ever since.
Massive ungulates and the tallest of the land animals, giraffes can be up to 18 feet tall and 3,800 pounds, and about two thirds of that is neck. Like most mammals, the neck of a giraffe has seven vertebrae, though in the giraffe each is elongated and covered in tacky chrome plating. Looking to justify the expense, the neck was put to use for getting leaves off acacia trees on the Africa plains, which was sold in the giraffe marketing campaign with the slogan ‘Whether in the Whole Foods produce aisle or on the Serengeti Plain – you’ll never go hungry.’ And then, in a truly gauche moment of designing nonsense, the giraffe’s head was topped with two ridiculous-looking cartilage horns.
‘Let’s throw some horns on it. There we go. Now that says class.’
As with most concept designs, the enormity of the giraffe created more problems than it was worth. To move blood against gravity up the neck, a giraffe requires a two-foot heart. It requires special anchor muscles to keep the neck upright. It requires a complex pressure regulation system in the upper neck to prevent blood flow to the brain when the giraffe bends over to fill up. It also requires a tight sheath of thick skin over its legs to keep the capillaries from bursting due to the blood pressure such a neck height creates. All this requires energy. Too bad, acacia trees.
As one might suspect, the giraffe’s size isn’t the advantage the guy at the dealership says it is. Sure, giraffes can eat from trees, and most predators leave them alone, but it’s not uncommon for lions to give it a go at knocking a giraffe off its feet. Then these very same lions will promptly eat the giraffe. As a rule of thumb, once one thing goes wrong with your giraffe, several other things are likely to follow. Repairs are famously expensive, and a certified giraffe mechanic can sometimes clear six figures a year.
Further looking to make up a use for the neck, male giraffes also fight each other with their necks. Because what else are they gonna do? Leg wrestle? No, they are not going to leg wrestle. They need those to try to get away from lions.
‘What do you mean “trunk space”? Are you high?’
So conceptual is the giraffe that each individual giraffe has a unique pattern of spots, adding further pointless costs coming out of the factory. Originally meant to appeal to collectors, it’s yet to catch on in the classic giraffe community and has provided an easy way for lions to coordinate between one another about which giraffe they’re going to knock off its feet and then eat.
‘Yeah, that one. The one where the spots go spot-spot-line- spot-line-spot. Let’s knock that one off its feet and then eat it.’
The one feature of the giraffe that might stand the test of time is its insomnia: a giraffe requires just ten minutes to two hours of sleep per day. The rest of the time is spent up on blocks in your friend’s dad’s garage, where nothing on it ever gets fixed but he keeps telling everyone not to go near it.