Animal Spotlight: Speke’s Gazelle

Did you know that Reid Park Zoo (RPZ) is so awesome that it even has its own bachelor pad? Sharing the Rhino habitat are male Speke’s Gazelles, no ladies of the species welcome. While not involved in breeding the Speke’s Gazelle, The Reid Park Zoo is actively involved in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for this species. They provide a space where males can live until needed at another zoo for a breeding match that ensures offspring are healthy and genetically diverse.

This small gazelle is named after the English explorer, John Hanning Speke. In 1858 he discovered that Lake Victoria was the source of the Nile, but he also named a variety of animals, such as the Speke’s Weaver Bird, the Speke’s Gundi, which is a rodent, and the Speke’s Gazelle.  

So tiny

The Speke’s Gazelle is the smallest of the gazelle species. They weigh about 40 lbs., and are about 2 feet tall. Tan colored with a dark side stripe, their white belly helps deflect the rising heat. Their tan face with dark stripes near the eyes and down the muzzle help reduce the glare of the sun. Males and females both have S-shaped horns with upward-curving tips. They are herbivores, grazing on grass, herbs, shrubs and other plants, and are ruminants, like deer and cattle, with a 4-chambered stomach.  They are adapted to survive a long time without water, an advantage in their dry habitat in East Africa.

Not a dinky deer

Gazelles and deer are both agile and graceful animals. However, they are very different. They belong to two different families: Gazelles are bovids and deer are cervids. Gazelles have permanent horns with no branches.  Deer have branched antlers that are shed annually. Watch for the Muntjac Deer coming to Reid Park Zoo’s Pathway to Asia expansion and compare it to the Speke’s Gazelles. The Speke’s Gazelle is more closely related to an American Buffalo than to a deer!

Are they Gazelles or Antelopes?

It’s complicated –  but the short answer is YES. Gazelles are a genus of the antelope group and belong to the bovidae family. Therefore, gazelles are antelopes, but not all antelopes are gazelles. While they have many similarities, there are significant differences between these cousins.  Check out their horns. Both male and female gazelles have horns, with the more massive horn on the male. In comparison, only a few female species of antelope have horns.   

The Nose and other talents

Time now for a few short videos, because the Speke’s Gazelle has an anatomical feature you have to see to believe, not to mention an unexpected vertical talent. The most notable feature of the Speke’s Gazelle is its nose. Its gentle face usually reminds us of Bambi, but…..when excited or threatened the skin on top of the nose can inflate to the size of a tennis ball. This amplifies their call and creates a loud honking sound which alerts others to danger. Also, Speke’s Gazelles are often seen jumping, running and bouncing in response to danger, a behavior called pronking, or stotting. Though these tiny gazelles are much smaller than their relatives, they can leap gracefully to amazing heights, not to mention run from danger at super speed, up to 60 miles per hour. 

They’re cute and social

Speke’s Gazelles live in small herds of about 12 animals, but may also gather together in groups of up to 20. There are two types of herds, one a group of bachelors with young and juvenile males, and the other consisting of an adult male and his harem. Calves are born in 6-7 months, only one per female. Because of their many predators, such as lions, wild dogs and hyenas, calves mostly lie motionless in the brush and come out only to nurse. They weigh 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds at birth, but after only 2-3 months they are weaned and ready to pronk. And honk.

Their numbers have dropped by half since 1988

Running, pronking, and honking notwithstanding, these small gazelles are endangered. They used to live in parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, but the Ethiopian population is close to extinction and the numbers in Somalia have greatly decreased due to hunting, drought and overgrazing. In the 1980’s the Speke’s Gazelle was one of the most widespread and abundant gazelles in Somalia, but the loss of grassland to grazing animals, such as cattle and goats, is a major reason for their decline. In addition, the lack of protected areas and the political instability in Somalia further increases the level of threat. Like most of the animals you can see at the Reid Park Zoo, humans are working not only to ensure their welfare now, but their survival for the future.   

2 Comments

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  1. There is nothing quite like a pronking Speke’s gazelle! I never thought of them as bovine. Thanks for all the info.

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