Adorable dwarf giraffes have been spotted for the first time, and with their graceful long necks tacked onto a set of chunky legs, they look like a mashup of mythical creatures. Researchers identified two wild giraffes that were around 9 feet (2.7 meters) tall — about half the height of the average giraffe. That diminutive stature could put them at a disadvantage in the wild, experts say.
One giraffe, dubbed "Gimli," after the trusty dwarf sidekick in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, was first spotted in 2015 in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park, according to The New York Times. The researchers were baffled when they first saw the 9-foot-4-inch-tall (2.8 m) giraffe.
"The initial reaction was disbelief," study lead author Michael Brown, a conservation science fellow with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, told the Times.
Related: How the giraffe got its iconic neck
The giraffe's legs were unusually short, which made it look as though someone had stuck a giraffe's head on a horse's body, the Times reported.
In 2018, the researchers observed an 8-foot-6-inch-tall (2.6 m) giraffe, nicknamed "Nigel," on a private farm in central Namibia, according to a new study on the encounters, published Dec. 30 in the journal BMC Research Notes.
After studying the proportions of these giraffes and comparing them with other giraffes of a similar age, the researchers determined that Gimli and Nigel have skeletal dysplasia, or abnormal bone development, that resulted in dwarfism.
In addition to humans, dwarfism has been observed in domestic animals, including dogs, cows and pigs, but it is rarely seen in wild animals. Gimli and Nigel are the first reported giraffes with the condition.
Their short stature could make them easier prey, "since they lack the ability to effectively run and kick, which are two of the giraffe's most effective anti-predator tactics," Brown said.
In addition, mating would be a challenge — both giraffes are males, and it would be nearly impossible for them to mount female giraffes, which can be up to 14 feet (4.3 m) tall, "unless they get a stepping stool," David O'Connor, president of the nonprofit Save Giraffes Now, told the Times.
Gimli was last spotted in March 2017, and Nigel was last seen in July 2020, but the researchers hope that they see both giraffes again soon.
Overall, giraffe populations have significantly declined in Africa over the past few decades, and GCF estimates that there are only about 111,000 giraffes left in the wild.
"The fact that this is the first description of dwarf giraffe is just another example of how little we know about these charismatic animals," Julian Fennessy, director and co-founder of GCF, said in a statement. "There is just so much more to learn about giraffe in Africa and we need to stand tall now to save them before it is too late."
Originally published on Live Science.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.