Olfactory discrimination in a captive reticulated giraffe: (giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)
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Ruminants, such as the reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), must be selective when foraging in order to avoid food sources that could disrupt their digestive microfauna (Forbes & Provenza, 2000). In order to avoid potential toxins, ruminants rely on chemical signals (such as taste and smell) as an early warning (Kimball., Russel, & Ott, 2011; Elliott & Loudon, 1986). However, there is little known about giraffe olfactory capabilities and currently there are several conflicting hypotheses about the acuteness of their sense of smell (Dagg, 1976). In this study, a 3-year-old female captive reticulated giraffe was tested using a discrimination task based on protocols used to train dogs (i.e. search and rescue) to perform olfactory discrimination with multiple stimuli. Birch oil scented cotton swabs were placed inside the target object which was presented to the subject with other visually identical, unscented objects made from PVC pipe. Average percentages of correct choices made by the subject were recorded and analyzed. The results of this study show that a captive giraffe can choose a birch scented object from an array of unscented objects more often than would be predicted by chance. This finding provides support for the hypothesis that giraffe in the wild may discriminate between food items based in part by their scent, an idea that could be tested in the field using identical food items with different scents.
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