After suffering a severe decline in recent years, the dama gazelle is now only found running wild in Chad, Mali and Niger. They are one of the most threatened species in Africa. Shockingly, these critically endangered animals can also be found on various ranches in the United States, where they are offered up specifically for hunting down again. On one particular ranch, for $10,000, “whether safari style, spot and stalk, or sitting patiently in a blind, you’ll experience the ultimate African game hunt right here in Texas”. This is far from the only ranch offering this ‘service’. Only three hundred left in the wild and these people are killing them for entertainment – Beggars belief!
Damas are diurnal and also tend to need more water than many desert animals, but they can withstand reasonably long periods of drought. They also have the cute habit of ‘pronking’ when they sense danger. This involves bouncing up and down on all fours so their legs all leave the ground together and land again in the same way. They are also very fleet of foot. And, they are not slouches when it comes to feeding. In order to take advantage of all the available food, these gazelles stand on their hind legs to reach the higher leaves.
The highly nomadic, and astonishingly beautiful, dama gazelle is the tallest and largest of all the gazelles, reaching almost four feet at the shoulder and weighing in at anything up to one hundred and sixty-five pounds. The elegant body is supported by long, thin legs, and the neck is slender and graceful. Both sexes sport s-shaped horns, with the male’s being larger and thicker.
Damas live in mixed herds consisting of fifteen to twenty animals. During the breeding season, March to June, the males establish their territory, ousting out all other males. Following which the gestation period lasts six and a half months. Normally females give birth to only one calf/fawn at a time, which will be weaned by six months.
These animals are perfectly designed to cope with the hot conditions of the desert. Their white and rusty-red coats reflect sunlight whilst their long legs offer more surface area to the body. These surface areas disseminate more heat and help them stay cool. Their legs and underparts are white to reflect heat from the hot desert sand, and, with their extraordinary length, the legs keep the body raised high above ground level.
In the dry season, they wander the grasslands, sparsely wooded savanna and sub-desert steppes of the Sahel region, where acacia trees are dominant. In the wet season, they migrate north to the stony plains and plateaux of the Sahara Desert.
Central and west Africa – Mainly Chad and Niger, with a few still in Mali.
What they eat
Leaves (particularly acacia leaves), coarse desert grasses and fruit.
Uncontrolled, excessive mechanised hunting by Arab hunting parties, military personnel and nomads. Habitat loss and degradation, and grazing of domestic animals. Natural predators include lion, hyena, cheetah, leopard and jackal.
Status: Critically Endangered
In all, there are probably no more than 300 dama (Nanger dama) gazelles in the wild today. The species is listed on CITES Appendix I and has been placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. According to a report issued by the IUCN in 2009, a quarter of all antelope species are threatened with extinction, and the dama gazelle is one of the five species of antelope in the highest category of threat.
“Deer hunting would be fine sport, if only the deer had guns” **
William S. Gilbert
**Although gazelle and deer are not strictly related, I felt this quote was appropriate.