The Mountain Gazelle

Abu Dhabi - Scott #5 (1964)
Abu Dhabi – Scott #5 (1964)

A gazelle is any of many antelope species in the genus Gazella or formerly considered to belong to it. Six species are included in two genera, Eudorcas and Nanger, which were formerly considered subgenera. The genus Procapra has also been considered a subgenus of Gazella, and its members are also referred to as gazelles, though they are not dealt with in this article. Gazelles are known as swift animals. Some are able to run at bursts as high as 100 km/h (60 mph) or run at a sustained speed of 50 km/h (30 mph). Gazelles are found mostly in the deserts, grasslands, and savannas of Africa; but they are also found in southwest and central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. They tend to live in herds, and eat less coarse, easily digestible plants and leaves.

Gazelles are rather small antelopes, most standing 60–110 cm (2–3.5 ft) high at the shoulder, and are generally fawn-colored.

The gazelle genera are Gazella, Eudorcas, and Nanger. The taxonomy of these genera is a confused one, and the classification of species and subspecies has been an unsettled issue. Currently, the genus Gazella is widely considered to contain about 10 species. Four further species are extinct: the red gazelle, the Arabian gazelle, the Queen of Sheba’s gazelle, and the Saudi gazelle. Most surviving gazelle species are considered threatened to varying degrees. Closely related to the true gazelles are the Tibetan and Mongolian gazelles (species of the genus Procapra), the blackbuck of Asia, and the African springbok.

One widely familiar gazelle is the African species Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsoni), which is around 60 to 80 cm (24 to 31 in) in height at the shoulder and is colored brown and white with a distinguishing black stripe. The males have long, often curved, horns. Like many other prey species, Tommies and springboks (as they are familiarly called) exhibit a distinctive behavior of stotting (running and jumping high before fleeing) when they are threatened by predators, such as cheetahs.

Gazella gazella (Mountain Gazelle). Photo taken on October 27, 2007.
Gazella gazella (Mountain Gazelle). Photo taken on October 27, 2007.

The word gazelle is derived from Arabic غزال‎ ġazāl. To Europe it first came to Old Spanish and Old French, and then around 1600 the word entered the English language. The Arab people traditionally hunted the gazelle. Appreciated for its grace, it is a symbol most commonly associated in Persian and Arabic literature with female beauty.

One of the traditional themes of Persian love poetry involves comparing the gazelle with the beloved, and linguists theorize ghazal, the word for love poetry in Persian, is related to the word for gazelle. It is related that the Caliph Abd al-Malik (646–705) freed a gazelle that he had captured because of her resemblance to his beloved:

O likeness of Layla, never fear!
For I am your friend, today, O wild deer!
Then I say, after freeing her from her fetters:
You are free for the sake of Layla, for ever!

The theme is found in the ancient Hebrew Song of Songs. (8:14)

Come away, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag
on the spice-laden mountains.

Mosaic of a gazelle (Byzanthic period), Ceasarea, Israel Photo taken by Avishai Teicher on October 20, 2007.
Mosaic of a gazelle (Byzanthic period), Ceasarea, Israel Photo taken by Avishai Teicher on October 20, 2007.

Fossils of genus Gazella are found in Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits of Eurasia and Africa. The tiny Gazella borbonica is one of the earliest European gazelles, characterized by its small size and short legs. Gazelles disappeared from Europe at the start of Ice Age, but they survived in Africa and Middle East.

The first definitive stamps 0f the sheikdom of Abu Dhabi under British protection were on March 30, 1964 (Scott #1-11). Three of the middle values in this set portrayed a gazelle, printed by the photogravure process on unwatermarked paper, perforated 14½. Scott #5 is denominated at 40 Gulf naye paise and colored bright violet. According to Colnet, the stamp pictures a mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella),  a species of gazelle widely but unevenly distributed. Mountain gazelle in Arabic is al gazal al jabali.

Mountain gazelles are one of the few mammals in which both sexes have horns. Males have significantly larger horns with rings around them. Females will also have horns, but they will be thinner and shorter. Along with the horns, mountain gazelles are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males are larger than females. A wild male can range from 17-29.5kg, while females are 16-25kg in weight. Mountain gazelles can reach running speeds up to 80 km/h (50 mph).

Mountain gazelles are most abundant in Israel, but are found in parts of Jordan, Turkey, and Palestine. While there are not accurate estimates of the number of individuals in the wild, Israel estimated there to be only 1,210 endangered gazelles in their country. Less than 3,000 mountain gazelles are left within their natural range.

Arabian mountain gazelle (Gazella gazelle cora) in the Dubai Desert Conservation Area, United Arab Emirates. Photo taken by Sharp Photography on February 15, 2014.
Arabian mountain gazelle (Gazella gazelle cora) in the Dubai Desert Conservation Area, United Arab Emirates. Photo taken by Sharp Photography on February 15, 2014.

Gazelles have adapted to live in dry, desert-like conditions. They spend most of their time at the top of mountains and hills. Living in an annual average temperature of 21-23°C, gazelles prefer to bed on the tops of the hills/mountains to avoid the heat during the day. Around dawn and dusk, these mammals will be found traversing the hills to eat in light forests, fields, or desert plateaus. It is less well adapted to hot, dry conditions than the Dorcas gazelle, which appears to have replaced the mountain gazelle through some of its range during the late Holocene in a period of climatic warming.

The mountain gazelle is a diurnal species, they are awake during the day and sleep at night. They are also very territorial and with their herds, but typically stay in herds of three to eight individuals. There are three main groups in the mountain gazelle community: maternity herds, bachelor male herds, or territorial solitary males.

In the wild, mountain gazelles rarely survive past the age of eight but can live up to 15 years in captivity when taken care of. By 12 months, a female gazelle can begin breeding. For males, 18 months is when they will start breeding. Being polygamous, not spending their lives with one other individual, mountain gazelles’ typical breeding season is during the early winter months. Females will give birth to one offspring per year mostly between the months of April and May. A few days prior to giving birth the mother will leave her herd and live in solitary. For up to two months, the mother and her offspring will stay by themselves while the mother watches out for predators. Common predators include foxes, jackals, and wolves that will try to attack the fawn.  While young males will stay with their mother for only six months before departing to a herd of young males, young females will sometimes join their mother with a herd.

Soemmerring's gazelle (females) as printed in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1867.
Soemmerring’s gazelle (females) as printed in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1867.

Its range coincides closely with that of the acacia trees that grow in these areas. It is mainly a grazing species, though this varies with food availability. They can survive for long periods of time without a water source. Instead, they acquire freshwater from succulents and dew droplets from plants.

Mountain gazelles were hunted throughout Israel because they were thought of as a pest until 1993. Their numbers are still low for multiple reasons. In some areas, they face predation from feral dogs and jackals. They also face poachers for their skin, meat, and horns. As with other animals, mountain gazelles are harmed by road accidents, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation. Mountain gazelles are now a legally protected species, but often there is not enough enforcement to protect the species.

Dhabi is the Arabic word for a particular species of native gazelle that was once common in the Arabian region. Abu Dhabi (أبو ظبي‎) means father of the gazelle. It is thought that this name came about because of the abundance of gazelles in the area and a folk tale involving Shakhbut bin Dhiyab al Nahyan.

The Sir Bani Yas Island Nature Reserve in the emirate of Abu Dhabi contains a herd of approximately 500 Arabian oryx as well as striped hyenas, sand and mountain gazelles, caracals and the Arabian tahr, a small goat-like mammal indigenous to the Hajar Mountains between the United Arab Emirates and Oman. There are 25 species of mammal and 170 different types of birds, making a total population of 13,000 animals at the 1,400 hectare reserve. The sanctuary was an initiative of the UAE’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed, who started bringing animals to Sir Bani Yas in 1971.

Flag of Abu Dhabi
Flag of Abu Dhabi
Emblem of Abu Dhabi

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