Giraffe and Oxpecker

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An Artistic Biological Relationship

I love how a fine art wildlife photograph can often be found in unexpected situations. Although I have seen oxpeckers on giraffes many times before for some reason on this particular day I finally noticed the amazing photographic opportunity a carefully positioned bird might present. Luck was on my side as  I was able to grab this photo before the bird flew off.

The placement of the bird in and amongst the hide pattern of the giraffe creates a visual metaphor for the interesting relationship the two animals share. The bird – a Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) - has a diet that consists mainly of ticks, but also includes other parasites such as blood-sucking flies, fleas and lice. An adult bird can consume 100′s of ticks a day if given the opportunity. The birds also trim wounds on their hosts’ hides and feed on the blood. This delays the healing of injuries and attracts more parasites to the area – opening a debate on whether or not the oxpecker is being more of a hindrance than a help, and if it is in itself a type of parasite. What is absolutely clear though is that by removing parasites, earwax and grease from the host’s body, the oxpecker minimises the animal’s grooming time and effort to a very large extent.

 

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