'How Giraffes Die', by Emily Meller


Public domain photograph from pixabay.com.

1. In the flat, open, dry savanna plains of sub-Saharan Africa, roaming giraffes routinely get struck by lightning and die.

2. When it enters the neck, around thirty thousand amps of energy surges through the body, singeing fur and causing the heart to beat itself to death.

3. In 2010 Hamley, the principal actor in TV series, Wild At Heart, wandered away from his pack and was struck by lightning and killed, all alone. He was aged seven years old. At the building where the series was filmed, Hamley would walk to the first floor window to have his ears scratched by fellow cast members.

4. Some experts say they are more susceptible because their stretched patchwork necks are perfect vectors for wayward storm energy, and that the space between their long legs makes it easy for the electricity to flow through their bodies. Others say it’s just a matter of chance.

5. I got taken to Taronga Zoo on a date, as a romantic gesture, even though as a pending vegan I was not sure I liked the idea of a zoo. As we walked through the gates, I imagined how a real vegan would have refused, forfeited the tickets, risked being ‘difficult’. Instead I went along and only winced quietly at the animals pacing their confines, wondering whether they realise they are trapped or just think boredom is part of life. I wonder if they ever worry about it.

6. I worry about being bored a lot. The boredom seems to stretch on through my calendar with no definite end and leaves me stranded in my own head. I used to get told ‘only boring people get bored’ which makes me worry I am just boring. In The Graduate Dustin Hoffman says he is “just…” “Worried?” “Well…” “About what?” “I guess about my future.”

7. It’s been argued that giraffes in zoos are even more susceptible to lightning strikes than those who are in the wild, as they are normally the tallest point in the zoo, necks sticking up above their zoo-mates and the trees they chew on.

8. In 2003 Betsy, who lived in Walt Disney World, died in front of visitors.

9. I suppose at least Taronga Zoo is educational; Walt Disney World is a fantastic nightmare, whimsy and mysticism on crack cocaine, and it’s not the Fair Trade kind. There is no mistaking that the animals here are not being held as a matter of public interest. Their captivity reeks of money, of spectacle, of the crazed screams of children from the ADD generation. What do they learn? That this is an acceptable way for an animal to live? That animals live to serve our purposes? By the time they realise the flaw, the next generation has already filled the vacated space. As far as business plans go: genius.

10. I feel like a small child in the Zoo, I am not much taller than them. I also make a lot of amazed sounds without meaning to. “Ooh,” I point at the yellow/black Corrobree frog. I laugh and point at the meerkat. “You like the meerkat?” I don’t know how to respond, exactly. “You’re cute.” I don’t think acting like an infant or an idiot is really cute. I say that out loud accidentally. He says “You’re funny.” “I don’t think I am.” “No. You are.” He isn’t laughing at all.

11. In 2013 Copenhagen zookeepers killed Marius, a baby giraffe, and cut him up into small pieces in front of onlookers. They thought the dissection was an excellent educational opportunity for children to see the actual insides of a giraffe.

12. While we were at Taronga Zoo, my date tried to hold my hand, which I hate. His palms were sweaty, too. He even tried to interlace our fingers. I spent ten minutes thinking of ways to pull it back without looking rude, or stand-offish, which is what I have been told I am. I thought of suggesting buying food, but I was feeling nauseated by the dank smell hanging above us. There was no breeze, just the baking December sun. I thought I could check my phone. I thought I could scratch my ear. Both only temporary solutions. Finally, I pretended to sneeze, using my hand to protect him from flying saliva and snot and germs and he never made a move towards my hand again.

After Marius was chopped up, they fed him to the lions.

13. After Marius was chopped up, they fed him to the lions, which is almost what would happen in the savanna, except Copenhagen is quite a lot colder and Denmark is quite a lot greener and in fact only has eleven wolves in total. Until 2012, there was only one lone wolf, the first seen in Denmark in 200 years, that wandered the farmlands terrorising sheep. It was a protected wolf. If the wolf ate any sheep, the farmers got compensation from the government.

14. At least lightning strikes are accidental, or random, or beyond our control. There are around 1.4 billion lightning flashes every year in the Earth’s atmosphere. During a storm, there is an average of three strikes that hit the earth every minute.“What are you humming?” I ask. “What? Nothing,” he says. “No, you were humming ‘Anaconda’. Just then as we walked past the anaconda and you started humming ‘Anaconda’.” He shrugs. “Yeah?” “That’s amazing.” I say it and then kind of regret it because it seems like he heard “You’re amazing.” Maybe he is, but I don’t think I want to be the one affirming it for him. He deserves a nice girl. The kind that says “That’s funny” instead of laughing. It’s too late though because I’ve said it and he puts his arm around me and I can’t cough my way out of it this time.

15. Sometimes I worry that I come off too cold. Other times that I come of way too hot – desperate – the antonym of attractiveness and number one pitfall of romantics everywhere. Once someone told me I “chased” him so much he eventually “gave in” to me. That’s why I waited for the Taronga Zoo date to be suggested rather than me suggesting anything first. I know that makes me a coward. I know that makes me an actor in a ridiculous gender role play. Marius probably knew he was in a zoo.

16. Betsy probably knew she was in a spectacle. Hamley was probably curious about all the cameras pointing at him all the time.

17. Giraffes still get struck by lightning in the wild.

18. Simon & Garfunkel wrote a song called ‘At The Zoo’. Apparently “The monkeys stand for honesty / Giraffes are dishonest.’ They may have a point. When I looked into the knobbled, unicorn-meets-martian face of Mvita, the giraffe, her lowered eyelids do make her look judgmental, even two-faced. Kind of like the girls who used to smoke around the corner from school and fixed each passerby with a cool ‘fuck off bitch’ stare.

19. There is a lot of anxiety about my future. There is a lot of uncertainty. I like to tell myself this is exciting, but often it just leaves me exhausted. The trick, I have found, is to keep moving. Harder, better, faster, stronger. New job, new story, new haircut, new date, new gym routine, new bar, new bed.

20. I wonder if this is the same tactic used by giraffes at the zoo as they pace up and down, up and down, up and down.

21. When we leave, my date insists on taking me home. I say I am fine to take the train. I show him my ticket, pre-paid to return. “I really like you,” he says. He waits. “Yeah,” I finally say. “Me too.” He leans in and I don’t move a muscle. He cups my face. There are families everywhere. It’s weird. It’s okay. It feels like the idea of a kiss rather than an actual kiss. Then it’s over. We wave at each other and on the train I touch my lips as though they might have a different texture now, but they don’t.

22. In the wild, a giraffe will roam and graze in an area of about 160 square kilometres throughout its lifetime. They do this in packs of around thirty, but their social bonds are pretty weak.

23. Sometimes I envy that kind of freedom. I see it on Instagram feeds, I see it in magazines, I see it in my friends who know who they are and where they want to be. Their path looks manicured and impossibly green from where I am. But I know theirs is a paradoxical freedom, just as mine is.

24. I don’t return his call after our date in Taronga Zoo. I don’t think it’s really going anywhere. As with so many things I start, I lose interest. I move on, probably too quickly.

25. The truth is: we’re all trapped, in one way or another. Sometimes I think that I am better off staying exactly where I am, accepting things as they are; after all, lightning still strikes in the wild.

26. Sometimes, in the wild, a giraffe will wander off by itself, and the herd will let it go freely.

Emily Meller is a writer, terrible surfer and law student. She helps edit The BRAG and has written for places like Vertigo and The Lifted Brow.