Gazelles are a type of antelope, most closely related to goats and sheep. There are 19 species of gazelle who live across Africa and Asia, in hot grassland environments. Heat is not a big concern for them, though, because in the hottest times of the year, they shrink their heart and liver. Do you think that you didn’t read that correctly? To clarify, their hearts and livers actually change size depending on the time of year. A smaller heart and liver takes up less oxygen and breathing is a big cause of water loss through exhaling water vapor, and so breathing less means less water loss when water is needed the most. There is only one species of gazelle who doesn’t live on the savanna, and that is the Edmi gazelle. They live in the mountains, specifically the Atlas Mountains, in Africa. They move down to warmer areas in the winter and back up to the mountains in the summer, sort of like migratory birds.
Gazelles are very fast and graceful. They use a move called “pronking”, which is when they leap up high using all four legs, to get away from predators. Gazelles can also reach speeds of 60 miles an hour, and can sustainably run at 40 miles an hour. This ability to sustain speed over long distances is a huge advantage in evading predators, mainly big cats, who can’t run quickly for long periods of time.
Gazelles are social animals and live in herds which are huge and can comprise of as many as 700 animals. During mating season, when it’s rainy in order for the babies to have lots to drink, the groups break off into smaller herds, usually separated into males and females. The fawns are kept hidden in tall grasses and stay with their mother in her herd for a while, until they can take care of themselves. At that point, the males may go to the male herd or the two herds become one again.
Gazelles are herbivores, they mostly eat grass, leaves, and shoots. They can stand on their back legs to reach leaves higher up in trees. They get a lot of moisture from their food, like koalas, so they might never need to actually drink any water. They are browsers. This means that they select the food with the highest nutritional value from a wide selection rather than eating any type of grass or leaf. So they have to eat a lot less in a day to stay well-fed and healthy.
All species of gazelle are currently endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. Efforts to save them seem to be mainly fragmented and different organizations are focused on specific species of gazelles. The African Wildlife Foundation has a lot of good information on conservation efforts at their website www.awf.org.
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