Impalas (Aepyceros) and giraffes (Giraffa) share the same walking gait, namely an amble

@beartracker @magcl @ptexis

It is widely known that the walking gait of giraffes (Giraffa) is unusual ( and

However, like many 'factoids' about Nature, this is subject to context.

It is true that giraffes have a 'parallel', not a 'diagonal', stride while walking ( and and and

However, the same is true also for many Carnivora.

The lion (Panthera leo), walking behind its intended prey, a giraffe, uses the same 'parallel' stride ( and and and

And, in turn, the lion walks similarly to the brown bear (Ursus arctos, and

(Yes, it is true that the brown bear walks like a giraffe, in the sense that the hind foot lifts only once the opposite fore foot has landed, and the hind foot lands (i.e. 'oversteps') considerably anterior to the print of the fore foot on the same side.)

Why is it, then, that this 'parallel' stride is seen as remarkable in giraffes, but not in Carnivora - including the domestic dog (Canis familiaris,

The obvious answer is:
because a gait that is normal in a plantigrade (e.g. brown bear) and digitigrade (e.g. lion) mammal seems much odder in mammals (giraffes) that are not only unguligrade, but extremely long-legged even among ungulates.

The above framing may explain, at least partly, why giraffes have a reputation for walking in an odd way.

For it is indeed remarkable that, in going from a 'flat-footed' animal, such as a bear, to an animal with 'stilts' for legs, such as a giraffe, the same gait is retained.
However, if this was a complete explanation, then all other hoofed mammals, including those with relatively short legs, would also walk like giraffes and Carnivora.

And this far from being true.

In fact, most ruminants walk in a different way, using a 'diagonal' stride. This applies to all deer (Cervidae, and many bovids (Bovidae,

Consider the tiger (Panthera tigris) following the sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) ( and and

The predator uses a 'parallel' stride ( and, whereas the prey uses a 'diagonal' stride ( and and

One explanation for this anomaly is as follows.

Unguligrady is an adaptation mainly for rapid and enduring fleeing from predators. In the 'arms-race' between prey and predator, hoofed mammals have compensated for the disadvantage of being surprised by predators, by having more efficient sprinting than that of Carnivora.

However, all benefits are accompanied by certain costs. And in the case of ruminants, a cost of 'living on stilts' (= unguligrady) is the risk of instability while walking.

Ruminants compensate for this risk by tending to use diagonal patterns in their walking strides.

This allows deer, for example,

It is only in two categories of ruminants that all 'diagonality' seems to have been abandoned while walking.

These are

  • giraffes, which achieve stability by means of the cantilever-effect of the long and massive neck, and
  • 'plains game', adapted to open environments where hiding is impractical, and compensating for this in various ways in their anti-predator strategies.

'Plains game' artiodactyls emphasise efficiency of walking over stability of walking. This is, hypothetically, why they use a 'parallel' stride, rather than a 'diagonal stride ( and,vid:-_if9UL39Lc,st:0). Their walking gaits are like that of giraffes, but for different reasons.

So, where do impalas fit into this conceptual framework?

Well, impalas walk like giraffes (

This can perhaps best be explained by comparing impalas with alcelaphin bovids (Alcelaphini).

Alcelaphins (wildebeests, hartebeests, and damalisks) epitomise 'plains game'. They are odd among ruminants in their combination of

  • humped withers,
  • migration/nomadism, and
  • extreme speed and endurance when galloping and cantering.

It is as part of the above syndrome that the 'parallel' stride of alcelaphins, when walking, can be considered. Alcelaphins are locomotorily aberrant, as part of an extreme relationship to predation.

For their part, impalas are odd among ruminants in their combination of

  • dependence on woody plants,
  • sedentariness (excluding nomadism, let alone migration),
  • intimate gregariousness, and
  • extreme bounding while fleeing.

We can, in light of the above, think of impalas as 'plains game adapted to relatively dense vegetation' (

This would place them - albeit with some 'sheohorning' - into the third category above, namely 'plains game'.

And this leads us to realise something shared by all the ruminants that use 'parallel' - as opposed to 'diagonal' - strides while walking, namely an inability/reluctance to use the ordinary running method known as trotting (

A trot is a 'diagonal' way of running. It is a standard gait in Carnivora and ungulates.

However, it is

  • absent in giraffes,
  • used by wildebeests and hartebeests only for display, and
  • peculiarly absent in impalas.

All of these ruminants have - in their own ways and for different reasons - abandoned trotting, as a gait for fleeing and commuting. It is in light of this common denominator that their adoption of a 'parallel' stride, when walking, can be appreciated.

What, then, should we call the 'parallel' gait used by giraffes, camels, 'plains game', and impalas alike?

I suggest that the best term is 'an amble'.

(This is not to be confused with a pace, which is also uses 'parallel' strides, but is a running gait, not a walking one.)

And this means that - to everyone's surprise - impalas and giraffes are evolutionarily convergent in ambling while walking ( and

This is despite the obvious differences between impalas and giraffes in

Furthermore, any preoccupation that giraffes walk oddly - which remains true in its way but is easily misinterpreted - may now have been overtaken. The more current notion - given the ordinariness of their body-proportions - should be that impalas walk even more oddly.

And this invites the next step in my investigative stroll, as follows.

Warthogs (Phacochoerus) - equally surprisingly - seem to amble (

This is in keeping with impalas inasmuch as these aberrant suids are 'plains game'. However, the new complication is that warthogs have certainly retained a trotting gait...

Please also see

Posted on April 10, 2024 01:22 AM by milewski milewski



THE COMPLICATED WALKING GAITS OF CAMELIDAE (which are secondarily digitigrade)

Camelus dromedarius (


The following shows C. dromedarius walking upslope on loose sand. The gait conforms to an amble in that the hind foot lifts only once the opposite fore foot has landed. However, it conforms to a cross-walk in that there is no 'overstepping', the hind foot landing in the track of the forefoot:

The following shows C. dromedarius walking downslope on firm sand. Not only is there no 'overstepping', but the hind foot lands somewhat posterior to the track of the fore foot:

Llama glama (


?semi cross-walking:



Lama pacos

"Alpacas moved using lateral sequence walks, mainly lateral couplets walks and runs with some lateral sequence, singlefoot footfall patterns. Remarkably, the alpacas never truly paced or trotted" (



Posted by milewski about 1 month ago

In ruminants, an amble can be thought of as a 'determined' or 'resolute' or 'purposeful' walking gait. By contrast, a cross-walk can be thought of as a 'hesitant' or 'tentative' or 'furtive' walking gait.

Posted by milewski about 1 month ago
Posted by milewski about 1 month ago

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