Two dwarf giraffes have been spotted in separate populations in Uganda and Namibia, according to a paper published in BMC Research Notes by researchers from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF). It is the first known account of dwarf giraffes in scientific literature.
“This shows that we still have much to learn about giraffes,” said the lead author Michael Brown.
The giraffes were documented at Murchison Falls National Park in western Uganda, and on a private farm in central Namibia during a photographic survey by GCF to determine numbers, population dynamics and distribution of giraffes throughout Africa.
Using digital photogrammetry, the researchers measured limb dimensions of the two dwarf giraffe and compared them to other giraffe in the populations and found that the two had shorter legs.
The study found that the giraffe population in Uganda experienced a significant bottleneck in the late 1980s due to civil unrest and associated bushmeat poaching although it is unlikely (and unclear) if this particular giraffe — named “Gimli” by the researchers in honour of R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings character — is related to a decrease in genetic diversity. It is unknown what effect, if any, these conditions might have on giraffe survival or reproduction but fortunately the population is rebounding.
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; an age when male giraffe are close to maturity and fully gown. The dwarf giraffe in Uganda was likely born around August or September of 2015, said Dr Brown. The GCF researchers will continue to monitor the two male giraffe to spot any observable variances in their behaviour and social status.
“While the Namibian farmer spotted Nigel regularly over the years, it was only after our observations that he realised that he was not a juvenile but a fully grown male giraffe,” the co-author Emma Wells. “According to our best understanding of giraffe taxonomy, they are Nubian giraffe. You could also call them northern giraffe. They used to be referred to as Rothschild’s giraffe, but recent genetic studies show that they should be Nubian giraffe,” Dr Brown said.
Across Africa, giraffe have experienced significant population declines over the past 30 years, leading to a silent extinction crisis. Giraffe are already extinct in at least seven countries in Africa. Population monitoring efforts are providing critical information to inform conservation efforts and ensure a future for wild giraffe throughout Africa.