Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world, reaching a height of 20 feet and weighing over 3,500 pounds. Giraffes are predominately located in East Africa but some can found South Africa too. There are only around 100,000 giraffes left in the world and certain subspecies like the Masai giraffes are declared endangered. When one spots an adult giraffe while walking around the Savanah, it is a sight to behold. When that same 20-foot giraffe is also walking around with bark-like bumps on its neck, it is even more obvious. This is exactly what happened to Helen Olive while on vacation in the Kruger national park, located in South Africa. Helen Olive is a civil Servant from Oxford, who has been taking photographs of the wild for 15 years. Helen initially noticed the spotted animal standing behind some bushes and trees, but quickly noticed the giraffe’s skin.

The giraffe’s bark-like appearance is caused by a virus called papillomavirus. In humans, the papillomavirus is spread through skin contact and can cause warts. The papillomavirus is not just a virus that inflicts humans but can found to affect several different species and has evolved differently for each type of animal it affects. In giraffes, the virus is spread by the Oxpecker bird. The Oxpecker bird eats parasites providing relief for the animal, but the birds can also spread infections and can become pest like. The disfigured neck of the giraffe spotted by Hellen Olive is a perfect example of how the Oxpecker bird can be a problem sometimes. Although the bark-like bumps are a hideous sight to behold, the virus does not kill the animals that are infected with it. The sores can sometimes be itchy, and if the growths are continuously scratched wounds can begin to form which can lead to infections.

Although the virus is harmless for the most part, the appearance of symptoms can be the result of a suppressed immune system. If you have ever watched any national geographic or wildlife videos, you have more than likely seen shot of a giraffe eating the famous Devil thorns. Eating the thorny plant would be a problem for any human but the giraffe’s leathery tongue and mouth allows them to eat this insane food with no problems. The giraffe’s diet is mostly filled with this thorny plant. One theory that exists questions if droughts in Africa could be adding additional stress to wildlife.

Tannin is a chemical naturally found in the devil thorn and in most plants. Tannin helps to protect the plant against bacteria and fungi. During a drought, the tannin content of the devil thorn increases and can poison the animals that consume the plant, like the giraffe. The poisoning is suspected to lower the giraffe’s immune system, resulting in the bark-like growths on the giraffe spotted by Helen olive. Similar to the treatment of the Papillomavirus in humans, the virus must be allowed to run its course. The only way to prevent the virus is to receive the vaccine for the virus. It is too late for our furry friend spotted by Helen olive but hopefully, the giraffe will be able to live a full life with only minor discomfort.