Dwarf giraffe discovered in Namibia

14 January 2021 | Environment

ELLANIE SMIT



WINDHOEK

Two dwarf giraffes were recently discovered in Namibia and Uganda.

Giraffes are known for their immense height, which gives them the ability to reach leaves on the tallest trees, and scientists were surprised when they discovered two of the world’s tallest mammals were half the size of a regular giraffe.

The findings were published by researchers from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) in the BMC Medical Journal in December.

According to the GCF, it represents the first known accounts of dwarf giraffe in scientific literature.

These giraffes were documented in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and on a private farm in central Namibia during photographic surveys that are routinely conducted by the GCF to determine numbers, population dynamics and the distribution of giraffes throughout Africa.

Stumpy legs

The giraffes have the standard long necks, but short and stumpy legs.

Most giraffes grow to 4.5 to six metres tall, but in 2018, scientists discovered a 2.6-metre-tall giraffe in Namibia. Three years earlier, they had discovered a 2.8-metre-tall giraffe in Uganda.

“Instances of wild animals with this type of skeletal dysplasia are extraordinarily rare,” the lead author of the study, Dr Michael Brown, said.

“It is another interesting wrinkle in the unique story of giraffe in these diverse ecosystems.”

In Namibia, Nigel the dwarf giraffe was born in 2014 and his unique body shape was first observed when he was about four years old. This is an age when male giraffes are close to maturity and fully grown.

“While the Namibian farmer had spotted Nigel regularly over the years, it was only after our observances that he realised that Nigel was not a juvenile, but a fully grown male giraffe,” Emma Wells, co-author of the study, said.

The GCF said researchers will continue to monitor the two giraffes to see whether any observable variances in their behaviour and social status occur.

Silent extinction

Across Africa, giraffes have experienced significant population declines over the past 30 years.

The GCF said population monitoring efforts like those by its partners in Namibia, Uganda and elsewhere provide critical information to inform conservation efforts and ensure a future for wildlife throughout Africa.

The foundation estimates that there are only about 111 000 giraffes remaining in the wild in Africa.

“Giraffes are undergoing a silent extinction in Africa. The fact that this is the first description of dwarf giraffes is just another example of how little we know about these charismatic animals,” said the director and co-founder of the GCF, Dr Julian Fennessy, said.

“It is only recently that our research has shown that there are four distinct species of giraffe. There is just so much more to learn about giraffes in Africa and we need to stand tall now to save them before it is too late.”

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