Giraffes smell so bad for the same reason tourists do: to repel parasites.
(Explanation: in Laos, we heard a funny story about a tourist on the bus who noticed that no locals wanted to sit beside him. He got talking to a local kid and asked why this was, and the kid let him in on the secret: the locals reckon tourists stink of insect repellent. And they’re right) (Link)
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2002 11:04:22 +0100
From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
To: forteana (spam-protected)
Subject: Why giraffes stink
Ananova: Scientists explain why giraffes smell so bad
Researchers say they have evidence that giraffes smell bad to repel parasites.
Scientists at California’s Humboldt State University have found their skin contains a cocktail of antibiotics and repellents.
The team arrived at its conclusion by analysing hair from the neck and back of a zoo giraffe.
They identified several smelly chemicals that work to stunt the growth of fungi and bacteria on skin.
These included indole and 3-methylindole; the same chemical compounds that make faeces smell.
Another compound present – para-cresol – is present in creosote and serves to repel bloodsucking ticks.
Biologist William Wood says rangers and zookeepers have long “noted that giraffes have this overpowering aroma.”
South African vernacular for an old male giraffe is “stink bull.” He suggests the aroma probably plays an important sexual function. He told Nature an overpowering smell would give potential partners a clear signal that an individual is free of fleas.
Story filed: 10:54 Monday 21st October 2002