Captive giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) mostly do not attain the longevity possible for this species and frequently have problems associated with low energy intake and fat storage mobilization. Abnormal tooth wear has been among the causes suggested as an underlying problem. This study utilizes a tooth wear scoring method (“mesowear”) primarily used in paleobiology. This scoring method was applied to museum specimens of free-ranging (n = 20) and captive (n = 41) giraffes. The scoring system allows for the differentiation between attrition- (typical for browsers, as browse contains little abrasive silica) and abrasion- (typical for grazers, as grass contains abrasive silica) dominated tooth wear. The dental wear pattern of the free-ranging population is dominated by attrition, resembles that previously published for free-ranging giraffe, and clusters within browsing herbivores in comparative analysis. In contrast, the wear pattern of the captive population is dominated by abrasion and clusters among grazing herbivores in comparative analyses. A potential explanation for this difference in tooth wear is likely related to the content of abrasive elements in zoo diets. Silica content (measured as acid insoluble ash) is low in browse and alfalfa. However, grass hay and the majority of pelleted compound feeds contain higher amounts of silica. It can be speculated that the abnormal wear pattern in captivity compromises tooth function in captive giraffe, with deleterious long-term consequences.
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