We have recently adopted the name ‘The Gazelle’ for this blog. But how many people know about the variety of gazelles in Africa and how they they behave? Our resident gazelle expert, Thokgor Reech reports:
I watched gazelles when I was young boy living in a small village Makuach in South Sudan. Gazelles were very common in Makuach, but in 1990, the number of gazelles was greatly reduced because of the many gunmen in area during the Sudanese civil war.
Gazelles are very gentle, speedy, high jumpers. Gazelles tease and insult other animals and people; they wait until you come near and then begin their gentle jump.
Gazelles are found in many places in Africa including Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa. The larger herds of gazelles are found in open, grassy plains, living together as individual males and females or in herds up to twenty in number.
Gazelles are grass animals; scrub and leaves keep them continually grazing and they have little need for water, as they are able to extract moisture from their food.
The gazelles vary their diet according to season. They eat herbs, foliage from shrubs, short grasses and shoots. Grant’s Gazelles obtain the moisture they need from their food and have unusually large salivary glands, possibly an adaptation for secreting fluid to cope with a relatively dry diet. They typically remain in the open during the heat of the day, suggesting they possess an efficient system to retain the necessary fluid in their bodies.
The gazelles are a main food source for all of the major predators in Africa, including man. The 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 nimbleness, speed and their impressive leading ability to avoid becoming a meal.
Even with all the predation, the Thomson’s gazelle and Grant’s gazelle prosper 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 interact. Even so, to tell them apart is fairly simple.
The Sand Gazelle is not a leaper but instead escapes predators with unbelievable rushes of speed, sometimes reaching 60 kilometre per hour. Stotting is a specific step used by gazelles when being chased by predators. It includes a high, stiff-legged jump that actually slows the gazelle down, increasing their risk of being caught. It may act as a boast of the gazelle’s great fitness. Whatever the reason, it seems to work as most cheetahs will break off a hunt when a gazelle stots.<
Grant’s gazelles resemble Thomson’s gazelles but are remarkably larger and easily distinguished by the broad white patch on the rump that extends upward onto the back. The white patch on the Thomson’s gazelle stops at the tail. Some varieties of Grant’s have a black line on each side of the body like the Thomson’s. In others, the line is very light or absent. A black line runs down the thigh. Grant’s gazelle’s lyre-shaped horns are firm at the base, clearly ringed and measuring 18 to 32 inches long. On the females’ black skin surrounds the teats with white hair on the underside. This probably helps the young recognise the source of milk. When a fawn is older and moving about with its mother, the dark line on the white background may serve as a signal for it to follow.
The Thomson’s gazelle or Tommie, is smaller and has a remarkable black band, stretching from shoulder to hip, bisecting their tan and white colouring. Tommies are exceptionally alert and rely heavily upon their impressive sense of hearing, sight and smell to detect any threat.
Some gazelles, especially those that live in desert regions, are critically endangered. The Sand Gazelles, Cuvier’s Gazelle and Dama Gazelle have seen their population radically 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 rarely enforced so these gazelles continue to reduce in number.
Grant’s gazelles live in standard male-led herds. In more closed habitats, the herds tend to be smaller and more sexually-segregated. Male gazelles have developed several ritualised postures to determine dominance. Younger males will fight, but as they grow older, the ritualised displays often take the place of fights. If neither competitor is intimidated, they may confront one another and clash horns trying to throw the other off-balance.
Most gazelles give birth to one fawn but it is not unusual for the Cuvier’s Gazelle to have twins. The Damn Gazelle is the leading of the species, weighing about 190lbs and standing about 42” high at the shoulder.
Breeding is seasonal but not firmly fixed. Gestation is approximately 7 months and the young are born in areas that provide some cover. The newborn fawn is carefully cleaned by the mother who eats the afterbirth. Once the fawn can stand up and has been suckled, it seeks a suitable hiding place. The mother watches carefully and evidently memorises the position before moving away to graze. Females return to the fawn three to four times during the day to suckle it and clean the area. The lying-out period is quite long – two weeks or more.
The fawn eats its first solid food at about 1 month but is nursed for 6 months. Grant’s gazelles become sexually-mature at about 18 months. By that time the young males will have joined an all-male bachelor herd, but it will be some time before they become territory holders, if at all. Males from the bachelor herds challenge the territorial males, but only the strongest win territories, which they mark with combined deposits of dung and urine.
Characterised by their long slender legs, gazelles when nervous or excited, will exhibit a behaviour called “pronking”, a method of locomotion where the animal jumps vertically into the clear. Some theories suggest that by making themselves more noticeable, they are signalling to predators that they are aware of the danger, or they may be showing off their fitness and strength to intimidate animals on the prowl for a meal.
Information sourced for this article has come from the National Geographic.