“I thought, ‘Wow, this is weird. Getting water up that long neck can’t be easy,'” he said.

Giraffe Closeup Isolated - Happy Expression

Binder is a physicist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where he works on nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory. Giraffes are rare sightings for him, but while on sabbatical in South Africa, Binder couldn’t forget the image of the thirsty giraffe.

“Physicists often have a childlike curiosity to know why things do what they do,” he said. “I just wanted to understand how giraffes drink. It was sheer, pure fun.”

He recruited the assistance of Dale Taylor, a physicist at the University of Cape Town, and they began collecting giraffe details — neck breadth, esophagus capacity, drinking episode length — in an attempt to find out why they do it.