A gazelle is any of many antelope species in the genus Gazella. This article also deals with the six species included in two further genera, Eudorcas and Nanger, which were formerly considered subgenera of Gazella. A third former subgenus, Procapra, includes three living species of Asian gazelles.
Temporal range: Pliocene to recent
|Scientific classification |
Several, see text
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 relatively 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 confused, 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 coloured 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 behaviour of stotting (running and jumping high before fleeing) when they are threatened by predators, such as cheetahs, lions, African wild dogs, crocodiles, hyenas, and leopards.
Etymology and name
Gazelle is derived from Arabic: غزال ġazāl, Maghrebi pronunciation ġazēl. 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 Arabic literature with female beauty. In many countries in Northwestern Sub-Saharan Africa, the gazelle is commonly referred to as "dangelo", meaning "swift deer".
Symbolism or totemism in African families
The gazelle, like the antelope to which it is a family of, is the totem of many African families such as the Joof family of the Senegambia region, the Bagananoa of Botswana in Southern Africa - said to be descended of the BaHurutshe, and the Eraraka (or Erarak) clan of Uganda. As common in many African societies, it is forbidden for the Joof or Eraraka to kill or touch the family totem.
One of the traditional themes of Arabic love poetry involves comparing the gazelle with the beloved, and linguists theorize ghazal, the word for love poetry in Arabic, 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 gazelle!
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.
† = extinct
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 the Ice Age, but they survived in Africa and Middle East.
- Genus Gazella
- Subgenus Vetagazella
- Gazella sinensis
- Gazella deperdita
- Gazella pilgrimi - steppe gazelle
- Gazella leile - Leile's gazelle
- Gazella praegaudryi - Japanese gazelle
- Gazella gaudryi
- Gazella paotehensis
- Gazella dorcadoides
- Gazella altidens
- Gazella mongolica
- Gazella lydekkeri - Ice Age gazelle
- Gazella blacki
- Gazella parasinensis
- Gazella kueitensis
- Gazella paragutturosa
- Subgenus Gazella
- Gazella janenschi
- Subgenus Trachelocele
- Gazella atlantica
- Gazella tingitana
- Subgenus Deprezia
- Genus Nanger
- Nanger vanhoepeni
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