Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri)

Also known as: Waller’s gazelle
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyBovidae
GenusLitocranius (1)
SizeHead-body length: 140 – 160 cm (2)
Male weight: 31 - 52 kg (2)
Female weight: 28 – 45 kg (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Gerenuk means ‘giraffe-necked’ in the Somali language, a name arising from its distinctive long, slender neck (3), which it stretches as it stands on its hindlegs to feed on the tender leaves of high branches. This tall, long-eared antelope has a chestnut coloured back, distinct from the light fawn sides and white underparts (2). Its muzzle and mouth are small for its size (2), and are narrow and pointed to enable it to pluck leaves from amongst tangles of thorns. Male gerenuks have short, robust, heavily ringed horns that curve elegantly backwards in an S-shape (4). Scent glands beneath the eyes enable male gerenuks to mark their territory and also mark females during the courtship ritual (2).

Occurs throughout the Horn of Africa, from southern Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia, southward through Kenya to northeastern Tanzania. It is known to have had a wider distribution in the past (2).

The gerenuk inhabits semi-arid bushland below 1,200 metres (2). It avoids grassy areas, preferring instead woody cover, particularly shrubs (5).

Incredibly, the gerenuk is believed to be independent of free water (5). This is a great advantage in its semi-arid habitat, as the gerenuk therefore does not have to undertake long journeys in search of water. Instead, the sedentary gerenuk is thought to obtain all the moisture it requires through its diet. It browses almost exclusively on tree-foliage (5), and is unique among antelopes in being able to stand on its hindlegs to reach over two metres high, attaining leaves that only giraffes can also reach (2). The gerenuk also feeds on shrubs, creepers and vines (5), where its tiny pointed muzzle can reach leaves amongst dense thorny tangles (2).

Young gerenuks can be born at any time of the year, after a gestation period of 6.5 to 7 months (5). Mothers do not need long before they can fall pregnant again, and are capable of producing at least four young within three years (5). The newborn calf is well hidden in vegetation, and joins its mother only after several weeks (2).

Male gerenuks are strictly territorial, and defend their land by driving away any intruding males (4). Fights can erupt between males, in which they may clash their heavy horns together by nodding or jerking their heads. Solid bone at the base of the horns, an extension braincase, provides the immediate force for these violent blows (2).

The gerenuk has been eliminated from parts of its historical range in East Africa, but it remains a widespread and relatively common antelope (2). However, outside of protected areas, the gerenuk is threatened by habitat loss and degradation, due to the expansion of agriculture, and is also impacted by hunting (1).

The IUCN currently classifies this species as Near Threatened (1). In the long-term, survival of the gerenuk is likely to be increasingly dependent on the presence of viable populations in national parks and reserves which are effectively protected. Such areas currently comprise only a small part of the range (6).

For further information on the gerenuk and its conservation see:

Authenticated (25/02/08) by Dr. David Mallon, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, San Diego.
  3. African Wildlife Foundation (September, 2007)
    http://www.awf.org/content/wildlife/detail/gerenuk
  4. Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  5. Leuthold, W. (1978) On the ecology of the gerenuk Litocranius walleri. The Journal of Animal Ecology, 47(2): 561 - 580.
  6. Mallon, D. (2008) Pers. comm.