Transporting Giraffes Is As Strange and Risky As It Looks

There are wide loads, and then there are tall, leaf-munching loads.

byJames Gilboy|
Two images of giraffes in tall trailers
Unknown via @matadornetwork on Instagram (left), San Diego Zoo (right)


Having a dog in your car is enough to make you drive a little more carefully. The same goes for a horse trailer, but to a greater extreme. Now imagine what it'd be like if that honse were 20 feet tall, and you have only some idea of how hard it is to relocate the tallest land animal on the planet: a giraffe.

Trailering ruminants is on my mind because The Algorithm fed me this video of a giraffe being transported upright in a trailer, its head easily 20 feet above the road. After the initial amusement wore off, curiosity set in. What was going on? Why was there a giraffe in a trailer? Where were they taking it? And is that even safe for the giraffe? Fortunately, the internet has answers, and this mode of transport seems to be very common—and as imperfect as it looks.

Standards for transporting giraffes appear to vary somewhat by country, but all have one thing in common: The unique trailer. From California to Canada, the Netherlands, and South Africa, all use heightened trailers with at least partially open roofs to relocate the animals while they're standing up. It's not as simple as herding the giraffe in and hitting the highway though, as explained by the Dutch Royal Burgers' Zoo.

For starters, the giraffe has to pass a wellness check, and have a good behavioral history to be safe to handle. It's also apparently rare to transport adult giraffes due to their height, with the risk growing alongside their lengthy necks. Those same necks complicate loading; you can't sedate a giraffe, wait until it collapses, and then drag it on to a long trailer and strap it down like an oversized, organic ATV. Again, their height means just drugging them can endanger the animal's life if it loses consciousness while standing—that head has a long way to fall. (If they are sedated, it's typically done against an inclined ladder.)

Specialized giraffe trailer. Royal Burgers' Zoo

Instead, the Dutch corral one down a narrow hallway directly into a trailer using a forklift. That trailer will be loaded with hay and water for the giraffe's comfort, and its roof will be open as soon as the animal is safely in place. From there, it's apparently not much more complicated than driving a horse trailer around. That is, as long as you remember it's much taller than a horse.

If you don't, you get what happened in South Africa in 2014. NPR reported on a journalist who witnessed a giraffe in transit strike its head on an overpass, killing it instantly. It's not clear what happened to the negligent driver, but it does illustrate that even the best solution here isn't a perfect one. Sometimes, there's just no substitute for slowing down and doing things the right way—especially when you have the life of a majestic, if ungainly creature in your hands. Take it away, Ze Frank.

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