June 21st is not only the longest day or night (depending on which hemisphere you live in), it's also World Giraffe Day, an event created by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) to celebrate the long-necked mammals and draw awareness to the conservation challenges facing the species. So to help put these iconic animals firmly in the spotlight, we've rounded up a handful of giraffe stories to help you celebrate. Starting with this feel-good gem ...

Walking tall: Baby giraffe gets custom-made braces

Veterinary teams and prosthetics specialists in San Diego recently teamed up to help out a giraffe calf that was battling with bowed legs. 'Msituni' – as she's known to staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park – was fitted with a nifty set of carbon graphite braces to help correct her unstable wrist joints that were restricting movement in her legs. Specialists from the Hanger Clinic, who typically construct prosthetics for humans, were called in to design a set of specialised leg gear, complete with giraffe patterning, of course. After 39 days in the braces, Msituni was ready to rejoin her herd and appears to be doing well. "We're so glad to have the resources and expertise to step in and provide this young calf the opportunity for a full life," said Dr Matt Kinney, the veterinarian in charge of the tiny calf.

Chad's has a new population of critically endangered giraffes

Conservationists working in the central African nation of Chad are celebrating the recent discovery of a new population of Kordofan giraffes, a critically endangered subspecies of the Northern giraffe. Estimates suggest there are only 2,300 of these 'white-socked' animals left in the wilds of central Africa, so any new additions are welcomed by those working to protect the imperilled species. "Finding the tallest mammal on earth still in areas that are unknown to us is always surprising," Julian Fennessy, the co-director of GCF told RFI. Although the new population is unlikely to significantly impact the overall number of Kordofan giraffes living in the wild, these kinds of discoveries are exciting for researchers hoping to revive the species.

Kordofan giraffe in Vincennes Zoo, Paris. Image © Mathae
Why the long neck?

Evolutionary scholars have long debated the reasons for the giraffe's iconic, stretched neck. The most popular theory is that the animals developed a long neck in response to competition for food, with a height advantage providing the animals with access to food few other animals could get to. However, recent fossil evidence has provided more impetus to the argument that giraffe evolution may be more about sex than food. A shorter-necked, prehistoric ancestor of the modern giraffe called Discokeryx xiezhi was recently described in the scientific literature and researchers noted that the animals were definitely built for head-butting. In fact, these stubby giraffes probably clashed heads more viciously than any other headbutting animal we know of today. The finding shows that modern giraffes – which also partake in a bit of head thwacking from time to time, albeit in lighter doses – descended from animals that were built for combat more than foraging. This suggests that upward growth could have been fuelled by a desire to overcome rivals and win mating rights rather than land a tasty meal.

An artist’s construction of male girraffoids battling it out. Discokeryx xiezhi is in the foreground, while the present-day giraffe we all know and love is in the background. Illustration © Yu Wang and Xaiocong Guo