Gazelles are antelopes of the genus Gazella. They are generally small, delicate herbivores with tawny coloring, white underbellies, and heavily ringed horns. Most of the 19 species of gazelle inhabit Africa, but some can be found in Southwest and Central Asia. The majority of gazelles prefer open, grassy plains, living in herd sizes as small as 8 individuals to hundreds of animals. Their diet of grass, scrub and leaves keeps them constantly grazing and they have little need for water, being able to extract moisture from their food.
The gazelle is a predominant food source for all of the major predators in Africa, including man. Their coloration and the open savannahs in which they live make them rather easy to spot. The gazelle's horns are no protection against attack and they must rely upon agility, speed and their impressive leaping prowess to avoid becoming a meal.
Even with all the predation, the Thomson's Gazelle and Grant's Gazelle thrive with impressive numbers. The Grant's Gazelle inhabits a wider range of territory in Africa while the Thomson's Gazelle has a larger population. Both species share grazing ground and the herds frequently intermingle. Even so, to tell them apart is fairly simple. The Thomson's Gazelle or Tommie, is smaller and has a striking black band, stretching from shoulder to hip, bisecting their tan and white coloring. Tommies are exceptionally alert and rely heavily upon their impressive senses of hearing, sight and smell to detect any threat.
Some gazelles, especially those that live in desert regions, are critically endangered. The Sand Gazelle, Cuvier's Gazelle and Dama Gazelle are among those who have seen their populations drastically decline in the last few decades. Drought, habitat destruction and poaching are all to blame. Laws and regulations have been passed to protect these species, but they are infrequently enforced so these gazelles continue to reduce in number.
Fun Gazelle Facts
- The Sand Gazelle is not a leaper, but instead eludes predators with incredible bursts of speed, sometimes reaching 60 miles/hour.
- Stotting is a specific gait used by gazelles and antelopes when being chased by predators. It involves a high, stiff-legged jump and actually slows the gazelle down, increasing their risk of being caught. Scientists have surmised it may act as a boast or taunt of the gazelle's actual fitness. Whatever the reasoning, it seems to work as most cheetahs will break off a hunt when a gazelle stots.
- Most gazelles give birth to one fawn, but it is not uncommon for the Cuvier's Gazelle to have twins.
- The Dama Gazelle is the largest of the species, weighing about 190lbs and standing about 42" high at the shoulder.
Out of Africa
African Wildlife Foundation
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