Dwarf Giraffes Gimli and Nigel Spotlight Urgency to Save Giraffes from Extinction
Dwarf giraffes are real and incredibly adorable. It’s just the kind of news we needed in these chaotic times. The dwarf giraffes look as though they have a horse’s body with a giraffe’s head and neck, as the Times notes.
At first, scientists thought pictures of the animals had been photoshopped. However, they’re real and couldn’t be cuter. It may be the first time dwarf giraffes have ever been documented.
Gimli, a Dwarf That Stand Nine Feet Tall
In December 2015, Michael Brown, a conservation science fellow with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, spotted a giraffe later nicknamed Gimli. He and fellow researchers were photographing giraffes as part of population studies in Uganda.
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll recognize the name as a fierce dwarf warrior.
Generally, giraffes are the tallest animals on Earth, standing 14 to 19 feet (4.3 to 5.8 meters) tall and measuring six feet long. Their neck alone can be seven feet long, and they can weigh 1,750 and 2,800 pounds (794 to 1,270 kilograms). Thus, they are twice as tall as an average basketball player.
However, Gimli, a critically at-risk Nubian giraffe, stands nine feet and four inches tall and lives in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park. The researchers spotted Gimli again in 2016 and 2017 but not again since then.
One of the scientists who discovered Gimili is Michael Brown, a conservation science fellow with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Brown told the Times:
“The initial reaction was disbelief,” said Brown.
“To the best of my knowledge, no one else has publicly described any other giraffe with dwarfism,” Brown told weather.com.
David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now and member of the IUCN Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group, had a similar reaction:
“I didn’t believe it at first,” said David O’Connor. “I thought it was photoshopped, to be honest.”
A Second Dwarf Giraffe Name Nigel
Three years after spotting Gimli in May 2018, researchers found another dwarf giraffe at a private farm in central Namibia. They spotted him again in July 2020.
Nigel is an Angolan giraffe that stands 8-1/2-feet-tall. At that point, the researchers concluded these giraffes were dwarves.
The researchers have noted both giraffes have skeletal dysplasia, which is rarely seen in wild animals. Moreover, they aren’t sure what caused the condition. Possibly, it could be due to a genetic pool that is weakening as giraffe populations dwindle.
“Instances of wild animals with these types of skeletal dysplasias are extraordinarily rare,” Brown stated. “It’s another interesting wrinkle in the unique story of giraffe in these diverse ecosystems.”
See Gimli and Nigel in the video from LiveScience below:
Surviving Against the Odds
Although Gimli and Nigel are dwarves, they survived the first year against the odds. Notably, as many as two-thirds of average giraffes don’t make it to their first birthday.
On average, giraffes in the wild have been known to live up to 40 years. However, Gimli and Nigel are more vulnerable due to their shorter height. As males, they might find mating impossible with much taller females. Thus, these rare animals won’t pass on genes that could be associated with their condition.
The researchers were able to make precise measurements of the two dwarf giraffes with a laser range finder and a camera. Thus, they could determine their leg bones were shorter than average giraffes. However, Gimli’s neck was longer than an average subadult’s neck. On the other hand, Nigel’s neck was about a foot shorter.
Threats From Humans
All giraffe species are highly vulnerable to threats from humans, including:
- climate change
- habitat destruction
- illegal wildlife trade
- growing human populations
- proximity to domestic livestock and civil unrest
Nubian giraffes like Gimli are largely extinct in their Northeast Africa ranges. Today, there are just 455 in the wild on protected lands in Kenya.
Recent Discovery of Four Giraffe Species
In 2016, scientists identified four distinct giraffe species. Previously it was thought there was one species divided into several subspecies. DNA testing concluded that the four groups never cross-breed.
The four giraffe species:
- Southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa)
- Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi)
- Reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata)
- Northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis)
The Northern giraffe includes Nubian giraffes like Gimli as a distinct but related subspecies. As for Nigel, he’s a Southern giraffe subspecies.
Giraffes Are Vulnerable to Extinction
Since the 1980s, giraffes have been dwindling in numbers by 40 percent, down to 68,000 mature adults in the wild. Nevertheless, they aren’t listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) found “substantial information on potential threats” to giraffes but delayed making a decision until 2025, reports the Independent.
An investigation by the Humane Society International found 40,000 giraffe parts were imported into the US from Africa between 2006-2015. The giraffe parts included 3,700 trophies, which amounted to one trophy for each day during the period. Most of those imports were legal, but some were from critically at-risk giraffes like Gimli, the Nubian giraffe.
International trade in giraffes is still allowed. David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, suggests that listing the giraffes as separate species under the Endangered Species Act could save them. However, he also noted many benefits to list them all as endangered:
“If giraffes were listed, it would release federal funding for conservation projects on the ground in Africa and shine some much-needed light on the plight of endangered species, such as the Nubian giraffe, for example,” said O’Connor.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for 2021 cut funding to wildlife conservation and climate change programs.
Hopefully, sharing stories about fabulous dwarf giraffes may help place a spotlight on the need to save them from imminent extinction.
See more about giraffes and conservation efforts from the Atlantic:
Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube/LiveScience