A LONG WALK TO PARIS
Truth is stranger than fiction. That's what people in Paris thought when they saw the amazing gift sent to King Charles X of France by the Viceroy of Egypt in1825. It was a very young female giraffe, six feet tall, with a reticulated (network) pattern all over her brown, hairy body. Named Zarafa, the Arabic word for giraffe, she was captured by men throwing a cloth over her head and a rope around her neck. Then they bound and tied her to a camel for the journey to Khartoum in the Sudan. From there she travelled down the river Nile in a felucca (open sailboat) to the Egyptian city of Alexandria.
The next part of the journey was by sea to the port of Marseilles in France. First, a hole had to be cut in the deck to allow her to fit into the ship's hold. She slept standing up. Her large, liquid brown eyes had no tear ducts with which to cry, but she could moan and grunt occasionally. Zarafa survived the long sea voyage well, despite the lack of space and unfamiliar surroundings. She continued to grow taller and finally reached a height of eight feet.
Winter was setting in when the ship reached the port of Marseilles. It was thought safer for Zarafa to wait until Spring and continue the journey to Paris on foot. The King sent a famous animal scientist, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, to care for her every day. They built a warm stall to shelter her and made a long, yellow coat with a black embroidered border to cover her. Special shoes were also designed to fit her large feet, the size of dinner plates.
Once Spring arrived in May, 1827, the long walk of 560 miles to Paris began. Three cows accompanied Zarafa on her walk to provide her with 25 litres of milk a day. In the wild, she would have eaten leaves and flowers of acacia trees and some vines and herbs. She might even swallow a whole weaver bird's nest, eggs and all. To drink, she'd spread her front legs far apart, reach her head on its tall neck down to the ground and lap up the water with her very long, black tongue. She could go without water for weeks - even months, if necessary.
The walk to Paris took forty one days and caused a sensation. No-one had ever seen a giraffe before. Some 100,000 Parisians flocked to see Zarafa and they went crazy. Some men sported extremely tall hats and women an even taller hairstyle called "a la giraffe". Furniture, textiles, pottery, even shrubs and trees were given giraffe shapes and designs. The flu that winter was called "giraffe flu". Witty sayings like: "Oh, go and comb your giraffe" (meaning "get on with it") were bandied about.
Zarafa lived for eighteen years at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, much loved by all those who saw her. She died there in January, 1845. You can visit her today at the Museum of Natural History in the city of La Rochelle, where her mummified body stands. Better still, go and watch a live giraffe at the zoo. There you can admire this splendid animal's unique skin pattern, perfectly adapted for camouflage against the sunlit trees of the African savannah.
Order: Ariodactyla; Species: Camelopardalis
Giraffes run at a speed of 30-50 miles per hour
A giraffe has a huge heart weighing 25lbs and 2ft. long
Giraffes can live about 25 years
Giraffes eat about 75 lbs of vegetation over a period of 20 hours
Giraffe's legs are all the same length
Giraffes can only walk on firm ground because they weigh about 1760 lbs
Female giraffes mature at 3-5 years
Gestation is 15 months and females give birth standing up to babies six feet taangry, a giraffe lowers its neck until almost horizontal
To submit, a giraffe stretches its neck and raises its nose into the air.