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Nature & Environment

Do giraffes often get struck by lightning ?

By T.K. Randall
July 1, 2017 · Comment icon 12 comments

Giraffes do appear to be more vulnerable to lightning strikes. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Tony Hisgett
Being the world's tallest animal, is the giraffe more prone to lightning strikes than other animals ?
It's a conundrum that, while outwardly simple, has managed to capture the imagination of the Internet having recently become the most popular ever question to be posted on the AskScience subreddit.

The short answer of course is that, given that they stand up to 6 meters tall, giraffes are indeed more prone to being struck by lightning, but exactly how much of a problem is this in practice ?

While it certainly can happen, the reality is that it is actually extremely rare.
"Between 1996 and 1999, the Rhino and Lion Reserve near Krugersdorp, South Africa, had two of its three giraffes killed by lightning - the third animal (a juvenile) was also struck but survived," said Darren Naish, a zoologist who had been researching the topic for a book he was writing.

Perhaps the most famous example however involved a giraffe named Betsy who was killed by a lightning strike at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida back in 2003.

In 2011, Universiti Putra Malaysia electrical engineer Chandima Gomes wrote what is perhaps the most widely referenced and definitive paper on the subject of animal lightning strikes.

"Animals with a large separation between their front and back feet... are vulnerable to receive lightning injuries due to the dangerous potential differences that may built up between these feet, in the event of nearby lightning," he wrote.

Source: Real Clear Science | Comments (12)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #3 Posted by RoofGardener 6 years ago
It's not as simple as "tall things get hit by lightning".  It's down to the "pointyness" of an object, and its earth linkage. And conductivity.  A giraffe isn't particularly pointy, nor conductive, nor earthed. (it has hooves, which would be somewhat insulating).
Comment icon #4 Posted by Matt221 6 years ago
Pointy giraffes not something you hear every day 
Comment icon #5 Posted by RoofGardener 6 years ago
Precisely my point ! 
Comment icon #6 Posted by The Silver Thong 6 years ago
never thought of this but they do have those horn things on the head and they are made of mostly water,  Maybe they hide under a tree don`t do that
Comment icon #7 Posted by woopypooky 6 years ago
Lightning strikes more on tall buildings in cities, so the same apply towards taller things in safari.
Comment icon #8 Posted by UFOwatcher 6 years ago
I don't get this difference in the spacing of the front and real legs. I would think it would be the potential difference between the head and the clouds. There are reports of animal kills especially cows in a group near a tree. Keep your head down Mr. Giraffe!
Comment icon #9 Posted by Black Monk 6 years ago
Does the mountain dwelling grouse get struck by lightning more often than the low plain dwelling giraffe?
Comment icon #10 Posted by Matt221 6 years ago
Ptarmigan up on the top of Caingorms if so how about them little snow buntings if the situation on top of oneach of those cafes.......even more height
Comment icon #11 Posted by RoofGardener 6 years ago
Grouse and Buntings are even LESS pointy than Giraffes. They are almost globular in comparison ! Most lightening strikes would go through plants, as these are usually VERY pointy. Trust me... I know whereof I speak. I've been trying to cut back Brambles on my sister's garden. I wish the darned things WOULD get hit by lightening ! Twice !
Comment icon #12 Posted by The Silver Thong 6 years ago
Good tip.......  Never take cover under a Giraffe in a storm.

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