It was like seeing a giraffe's head and neck on a horse's body.
For the first time ever, dwarf giraffes have been spotted in the wild. Given the natural size of adult giraffes, the term “mini giraffe” may seem like an oxymoron, but a group of researchers found these animals existing in Uganda.
In a paper published in the journal BMC Research Notes, the researchers described their discovery while conducting a photographic survey of the giraffe population in Murchison Falls National Park.
See the size comparison of the dwarf giraffe compared to the normal-sized one. This was taken in Namibia.
They spotted an unusual giraffe who possessed a sub-adult body size but has notable shorter legs compared to the normal adult giraffe. It stands only just 9 feet, 4 inches tall, which made the researchers do a double-take.
The neck of the Ugandan giraffe – nicknamed Gimli — was characteristically long, but its legs weren’t. It was like seeing a giraffe’s head and neck on a horse’s body.
“The initial reaction was disbelief,” said Michael Brown, conservation biologist and lead author of the study.
They also saw a second one – which was nicknamed Nigel – while they are in Namibia, with the animal having the same morphological abnormalities.
The researchers estimated that the second giraffe was born in 2014. Giraffe calves reach full maturity somewhere between three to six years old. This means that the giraffe should already have the usual leg length of the normal ones.
They attributed the condition of both giraffes to a condition similar to skeletal dysplasia, which is a general term for conditions that affect limb length, including dwarfism.
Giraffes usually grow to an average height of 4.6 to 6.1 meters (15.1 to 20 feet). Measuring a giraffe is definitely not an easy task for a human using a measuring tape.
It should also be noted that collecting such data is performed in a non-invasive manner in order not to disrupt the animals and avoid the negative consequences that such disruption can lead to their behavior and survival.
Because of this, a method called photogrammetry was created for measuring big animals such as elephants. It involves the use of a laser rangefinder to measure the distance between features of interest. The distance between digital pixels in the photos are then gauged and compared to the actual size of the focal feature.
Using this method, the researchers established that the two giraffes they saw were indeed significantly different from the average counterparts. The giraffe in Uganda’s lowermost segment of the leg (phalanx) was roughly as tall as the normal ones, but the phalanx of the Namibian giraffe was significantly shorter, each measuring 21.2 centimeters (8.3 inches) and 15.8 centimeters (6.2 inches) respectively.
According to Brown, “Instances of wild animals with these types of skeletal dysplasias are extraordinarily rare.”
Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world alive today, with the males noticeably larger than females. They tend to live in family groups comprised of females and their offspring and they are usually found in savannahs and open woodlands rather than in denser forests.
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