For Melissa...

A woman was kicked to death by a giraffe on a South African game farm while she was out walking her dogs. Merike Engelbrecht, 25, was discovered by her family with a broken neck after one of the two dogs with its leash still attached returned to their property without her.

Her brother Hannes Visser said trackers suspected the pets disturbed a herd of giraffes which included a cow and calf who may have become protective of her offspring. "It seems as if she grabbed the dog and tried to protect it. That was when the giraffe kicked her from the back in the neck. Her neck was broken. She died instantly," Mr Visser said.

Mr Visser said the family were visiting the game park in Limpopo province near the Zimbabwe border to celebrate their mother's 50th birthday, which coincided with Engelbrecht and husband Juan's first wedding anniversary. Both German Shorthaired Pointer dogs Tasco and Jasha suffered bruising from the incident on Saturday morning.

Despite their elegant appearance, giraffes possess a powerful kick if threatened. Scientists said one kick can shatter the skull or break the spine of a lion - one of its main predators. "The trackers were able to work out what had happened from the tracks and the marks on the ground," family member William Smith said. "It was a total freak accident. She gave her life to protect her dogs." He said the family did not resent the animal or the game park in Musina which they visited before. The giraffe will not be destroyed.

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