Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas)

French: Gazelle Dorcas
Spanish: Gacela Dorcas
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusGazella (1)
SizeLength: 90 - 110 cm (2)
Tail length: 15 - 20 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 55 - 65 cm (2)
Weight15 - 20 kg (2)

Gazella dorcas is classified as Vulnerable (VU A1a) by the IUCN Red List 2003 (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES (3). The Moroccan dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas massaesyla) is classified as Endangered under IUCN criteria (3). Six subspecies have been described, but the validity and distribution of most of these subspecies are uncertain (3).

The Dorcas gazelle is generally similar in appearance to the closely related Gazella gazella, but they are smaller, have longer ears and more strongly curved horns, which bow outwards then turn inwards and forwards at the tips (4). Individuals belonging to the Saharan subspecies (G. d. osiris) have a very pale fawn coloured coat, and the white underside is bordered with a brown stripe, above which there is a sandy stripe. The forehead and face are darker than the body (4). Subspecies from north of the Sahara tend to be more ochre in colour, and have dark flanks and face-stripes, while populations in Israel and around the Red Sea are darker and more reddish (4).

The dorcas gazelle is found in North Africa and the Middle East (3). The ‘possible’ range of the various subspecies includes Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia and Western Sahara (5) (6). In Jordan it is considered to be one of the country’s most threatened species (3). G.d.isabella is found in Israel and Sinai, and along the coast of the Red Sea on the borders of Saudi Arabia (7). The Moroccan dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas massaesyla) is found only in the northern plains of Morocco (3) and Pelzen’s gazelle (Gazella dorcas pelzelni) is found in Somalia (5).

Dorcas gazelles inhabit flat grassland and steppe in Morocco, and desert, sub-desert, and steppe in Algeria, where they tend to avoid very sandy areas (3). In Libya they occur in a range of dry open habitats but show a strong preference for vegetated dry watercourses, known as wadis. In the Western Desert of Egypt it prefers oasis-type depressions and used to occur along the coast of the Mediterranean; it also inhabits wadis in this area. In Jordan they are found in flat gravel-plains, mixed gravel and dune areas and gravel plateaux, and in Israel they are typically found in wadis, where acacia trees are able to grow due to the presence of underground water sources (3).

The dorcas gazelle is one of the most desert-adapted of all gazelles; they can go for their entire lives without drinking, as they can get all the moisture they need from the plants that form their diet (2). However, they will drink if water is available (4). They are able to withstand high temperatures, but when it is very hot they are active mainly at dawn, dusk and during the night (2). In areas where they face persecution, they tend to be active at night in order to minimise the risk of hunting (4). These gazelles feed on leaves, flowers and pods of many species of Acacia trees as well as the leaves, twigs and fruits of various bushes. They occasionally stand on their hind legs to browse on trees, and after rain they have been observed digging out bulbs from the ground (4).

When conditions are harsh, dorcas gazelles live in pairs, but when conditions are more favourable they occur in family herds with one adult male, several females and young (4). During the breeding season, adult males tend to be territorial, and mark their range with dung middens (2). In most parts of the range, mating takes place from September to November. Gestation takes six months; a single fawn is the norm, although twins have been reported in Algeria. The newborn is well developed at birth, with fur and open eyes. Within the first hour, the fawn attempts to stand, and it will suckle on this first day of life (4). In the first two weeks, the young gazelle lies curled up in a scrape on the ground or beneath bushes while the mother grazes close by. The young then starts to follow its mother around and begins to take solid food. After around three months, the fawn stops suckling and is fully weaned, at which time the pair rejoins the herd (4).

The natural predators of dorcas gazelles include cheetahs, which have largely been eliminated throughout the gazelle’s range. Other predators include serval, caracal, wolf, and hyaena. Fawns are taken by smaller cats, jackals, foxes, and eagles (4). Dorcas gazelles are able to run at speeds of up to 80 km per hour, and when threatened they tail-twitch and make bouncing leaps with the head held high (stotting) to announce that they have seen a predator (4).

Numbers of this gazelle have declined throughout its range (1). Threats facing this species include habitat loss due to the expansion of permanent agriculture and grazing pressures caused by domestic sheep and goats. Poaching for food and predation by dogs are also problems, but the most serious threat throughout this gazelle’s range is uncontrolled illegal hunting (3).

This species lives within national parks, nature reserves and other protected areas in a number of the countries in which it occurs. It is protected by law in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan and Israel; however in some areas enforcement is poor (3). In many countries, it has been proposed that further reserves should be created and enforcement of existing legal protection should be improved. In Tunisia, there is a need to determine the status of the species in the wild, and to determine where conservation action, such as carrying out reintroductions of captive-bred stock, should be used to restore the species. Captive breeding and reintroductions have also been proposed in Libya (3).

African Mammals Databank:
http://www.gisbau.uniroma1.it/amd/homespec.html

IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group/Northeast African Subgroup:
http://www.neaasg.org/

Sahara Conservation Fund:
www.saharaconservation.org

Authenticated (18/05/2006) by John Newby, Director of the Sahara Conservation Fund.
http://www.saharaconservation.org

  1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (March, 2004)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. African Mammals Databank (March, 2004)
    http://www.gisbau.uniroma1.it/amd/homespec.html
  3. Mallon, D.P. and Kingswood, S.C. (2001) Global Survey and Regional Action Plans - Antelopes. Part 4: North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  4. Yom-Tov, Y., Mendelssohn, H. and Groves, C.P. (1995) Gazella dorcas. Mammalian species, 491: 1 - 6. Available at:
    http://arts.anu.edu.au/grovco/Gazella%20dorcas.pdf
  5. GISBAU- Geographic Information Systems Laboratory of the Animal and Human Biology Department (March, 2004)
    http://www.gisbau.uniroma1.it/data/amd/amd165/amd165.pdf
  6. Beudels, R.C., Devilliers, P., Lafontaine, R., Devilliers-Terschuren, J. and Beudels, M. (2006) CMS SSA Concerted Action. 2d Edition. CMS Technical Series Publication No. 10. UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany.
  7. Groves, C.P. (1996) Taxonomic Diversity in Arabian Gazelles: The State of the Art. In: Greth, A., Magin, C. and and Ancrenaz, M. (Eds) Conservation of Arabian Gazelles. National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development, Riyadh. Available at:
    http://arts.anu.edu.au/grovco/Conservation%20Arabian%20gazelles.pdf