A Just So Darwinian Story: How Giraffes Came To Be The Way They Are

Once upon a time, giraffes had shorter necks. They could eat leaves off medium and low-lying tree branches, but they had to compete for those leaves with elephants, and this caused the giraffes to be frustrated and hungry a lot of the time. 

There was one giraffe in particular—a giraffe named Harvey—who suffered even more frustration and hunger than that of the other giraffes, for he had only about half the neck length of his fellows. He could barely reach the leaves on even the lowest tree branches.

Harvey was a freak in another way: he had a head twice the size of the other giraffes. But the reason Harvey had such a big head is because he had a big brain inside of it—a brain far bigger than any giraffe that had ever lived.

This big brain gave Harvey big ideas. And he had some pretty big ideas about what he wanted to do with a giraffe named Sally. Sally had a longer neck than all of the other giraffes that Harvey knew. She was quite an impressive specimen of her species.

And what a tongue! Even her tongue was longer than average. She could stretch her neck and tongue just above where the elephants foraged for leaves—and, most of the time, she was able to get all of the leaves that she wanted.

Of all the giraffes that Harvey knew, Sally was by far the happiest.

But Sally was not terribly bright. In fact, Sally was downright slow. And she was also quite obsessed with her appearance. When she was not eating leaves, she was down at the watering hole looking at her reflection in the water.  

Sally’s narcissism gave Harvey a clever and naughty idea. He reasoned thus with himself:

I will flatter Sally with pretty words and tell her how very pretty she is. Then she will fall in love with me and ask me to marry her. Naturally, I’ll agree. Then we’ll marry, and, whenever I want leaves, I’ll tell her to gather some for me. They might have her saliva all over them, but I’ll be rolling in leaves for the rest of my life, never hungry again!

Harvey wasn’t worried about love. He just wanted to survive in a harsh environment. It was nothing personal against Sally.

So Harvey went to work on Sally, visiting her whenever he noticed that she was alone, and reciting poetry to her that he had thought up. Here’s one of the poems he recited into her downturned ear:

Before the night’s glittering

black curtain,

the Father of dung


moves the moon.

Sally told him that she liked his poetry, and, at times, she was emotionally upended by his compliments, thinking that she must surely marry Harvey some day.

But, when it came right down to it, Sally just didn’t feel right about Harvey. She didn’t love him. She felt that Harvey was too smart for her, and she didn’t really understand his poetry. Also, Harvey didn’t match with her visually. They didn’t look like a proper couple. She knew she’d be embarrassed to be seen about with him, and she knew that this embarrassment would be shallow. But she was no saint, and didn’t want to be. In any event, when she really searched her heart, she couldn’t escape the fact that she was in love with a much taller giraffe; one even taller than her; one that Harvey had never met.

That taller giraffe’s name was Gerard. Gerard was quite the athlete, and this turned Sally on.

To make a long story short, Sally followed her heart and eloped with Gerard. When Harvey saw her again, three months later, Sally was pregnant. She told Harvey she hoped that his heart was not broken, and that he should continue to make his poetry. She had no idea how he did it, his poetry. She wished him all the very best that life could offer.

Six months later, Harvey starved to death. He left no offspring to acquire the 1-in-a-zillion-gazillion chance genetic mutation that gave him his extraordinary brain. That mutation in his DNA dropped to the dirt with his body, never to be passed on to any other giraffe. Mere hours after his death, overzealous buzzards separated his head from his neck, and in the middle of the night his brain was licked out of his skull by jackals.

So Sally proved too dumb to appreciate Harvey’s extraordinary potential significance for her species. But she died happy, many years after Harvey, having lived her whole life following her heart. Her dull husband and their dull offspring also lived to ripe old ages. She lived long enough to see her 20 giraffe grandchildren. They were quite lovely, but dumb as posts. They had many, many offspring.   

And that’s why giraffes are so stupid.


Story by Santi Tafarella 2011


File:Giraffe koure niger 2006.jpg


Image source: Wikipedia Commons.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to A Just So Darwinian Story: How Giraffes Came To Be The Way They Are

  1. i thin kmost giraffes are called gerrard, or gina. 🙂

    • santitafarella says:

      You’re almost certainly right about this. It’s probably why I unconsciously landed on that name for one of the characters.


  2. Colin Hutton says:

    “And that’s why giraffes are so stupid” ——————– and contented!

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