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What Giraffes will do for a Drink

by  Nathaniel Nelson

If you travel across the great savannahs of Africa, you will come upon animals of all shapes and sizes. Yet, as you look among them, none of these animals stands as tall as the giraffe. If you take a closer look, you might see the giraffe perform an amazing feat—bend down to get a drink of water. The giraffe is the world’s tallest terrestrial animal, and can reach well over 12 feet in height. As the giraffe leans over to get a drink, there are some interesting features at work beneath its famously patterned skin. One of these elements is the giraffe’s elongated neck. Evolutionary theory has tried for decades to explain the phenomenon of the giraffe’s neck, but such conjectures cannot account to the anatomical and physiological mastery exhibited in the giraffe. William R. Corliss observed in his book, Biological Anomalies: “In sum, Nature is very anomalous or, equivalently, Nature is not yet well understood. Much remains to be done” (1995, p. v, emp. in orig.). Could there be a reason for animals such as the giraffe to be so uncharacteristically diverse?

There are other animals that have extended necks. As Corliss went on to note: “Several mammalian browsers have developed particularly long necks that help them reach high foliage; viz., the dibatags and gerenuks” (p. 106). But of all the long-necked animals, the giraffe is probably the most mind-boggling. Corliss contrasted the giraffe with other such creatures: “But, the giraffe’s neck is so long that major body modifications were required during the (supposed) evolution from short-necked okapi-like animals” (p. 106, parenthetical item in orig.).

Let us assume for a moment that the giraffe really did evolve by chance processes over time. In order for the giraffe’s neck to lengthen, the heart would need to be able to pump harder in order to push blood up the neck to the brain. Bristol Foster, writing in National Geographic, commented on the giraffe’s heart: “To drive blood eight feet up to the head, the heart is exceptionally large and thick-muscled, and the blood pressure—twice or three times that of man—is probably the highest in any animal” (1977, p. 409). For the giraffe to survive, its heart would have to evolve concurrently with the neck.

While this change is occurring, the giraffe might want to lap up water from a nearby lake. The giraffe would spread its forelegs and bend its neck below body level to drink the water. If you have ever been upside down for any period of time, then you know the feeling of blood rushing to your head. In the same way, the giraffe’s heart is so large and powerful that it normally would shoot a hefty amount of blood into the brain, causing a possibly fatal increase of blood pressure in the giraffe’s head. This does not happen, though, because of specialized valves contained within the vessels of the giraffe’s neck. These valves work to block the blood being pumped to the brain during the giraffe’s water break. Furthermore, if the giraffe were to see a predator and try to run from it just after bending over, you would expect it to pass out because its blood pressure had dropped so low. Once again, however, the same network of valves saves the giraffe by routing the blood in a way that keeps the blood pressure constant. Where did these valves come from? And how did they evolve simultaneously with the heart and neck? Evolution has no answers.

Many hospitals use what are known as gravity suits. These ensembles prevent fluid retention (edema) in the lower extremities. The giraffe has a built-in antigravity suit that prevents blood pooling and edema. The two portions of the giraffe’s body that help in the function of this system are its tough skin and its fascia (connecting tissue). So, in order to survive, the giraffe must have evolved a longer neck, a heart to push blood up the neck, special valves to maintain its blood pressure, and an antigravity suit to resist the extreme pressure that is routinely produced. Did these structures arrive by coincidence?

The list of what must have evolved “in sync” with the rest of the giraffe’s anatomy is lengthy and impressive. Evolutionist Robert Wesson stated:

The protogiraffe had not only to lengthen neck vertebra (fixed at seven in mammals), but had to make any concurrent modifications: the head, difficult to sustain atop the long neck, became relatively smaller.... Big lungs were necessary to compensate for breathing through a tube 10 feet long; many muscles, tendons, and bones had to be modified harmoniously; the forelegs were lengthened with corresponding restructuring of the frame; and many reflexes had to be reshaped (1991, p. 226, parenthetical item in orig.).

As Wesson noted, these processes had to come into existence at the same time! The head had to be miniaturized in order to rest on the top of a 15-foot-high giant. Plus, the giraffe’s lungs are eight times the size of an average human’s in order for it to breathe through a ten-foot-long trachea. And every structural support must reshape to match the new form of the neck. Any statistician (or physiologist) would balk at the probability of a creature evolving these extreme characteristics.

Evolution suggests that nature would have “selected” these long-necked mutants over those that could not reach higher foliage (see Corliss, p. 106). But male giraffes (who are around two feet taller than females) would survive, while the shorter females would die off. Yet we still see both males and females alive today. Additionally, fossils that could provide evidence as to the evolution of the giraffe remain elusive. Francis Hitching mentioned: “There are no intermediate fossils showing a quarter-length giraffe neck” (1982, p. 30). The evidence inexorably leads away from evolution. The giraffe’s coordinated innovations are a testament to design in the animal kingdom. From its long neck to its antigravity-suit skin, the giraffe’s diverse nature flouts the theory of evolution, and instead embraces the opposite concept—design.

REFERENCES

Corliss, William R. (1995), Biological Anomalies: Mammals I (Glen Arm, MD: The Sourcebook Project).

Foster, Bristol (1977), “Africa’s Gentle Giants,” National Geographic, 152[3]:402-417, September.

Hitching, Francis (1982), The Neck of the Giraffe (New York: Ticknor and Fields).

Wesson, Robert (1991), Beyond Natural Selection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).




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