Mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella)

French: Gazelle D'Arabie, Gazelle Edmi
Spanish: Gacela Idmi
GenusGazella (1)
SizeMale head-body length: 101-115 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 98-101 cm (2)
Male horn length: 22-29.4 cm (2)
Female horn length: 5.8-11.5 cm (2)
Ear length: 11-12.5 cm (2)
Tail length: 8 – 13 cm (2)
Male weight: 17 – 29.5 kg (2) (3)
Female weight: 16 – 25 kg (2) (3)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1). The taxonomy of Gazella gazella has been hotly debated in the past, with some populations having been described as independent species, later being renamed as subspecies of the mountain gazelle, and then later being re-described as independent species again. To complicate matters, a number of gazelle populations in Arabian Peninsula are not considered pure, but rather the result of cross-breeding between two or more unknown species or subspecies (2). Though scientists currently describe six subspecies for mountain gazelles (1), recent genetic research has demonstrated that the taxonomy of this species has to be changed considerably (2).

Of all Gazella species, the mountain gazelle is the most slender built with relatively the longest neck and legs (2) (3). The coat is fawn to dark-brown on the back, neck and head, while the belly and buttocks are pure white, with these tones being separated on the flanks by a dark narrow band (2) (3) (4) (5). The coat is short, sleek and glossy in summer, reflecting much of the sun’s radiation. In winter the pelage is much longer, dense and rainproof and not glossy, enabling the gazelles to withstand the heavy winter rains (800 to 1000 millimetres) in northern Israel; although seasonal variations in the pelage are much less in desert subspecies (2). The face has two conspicuous white stripes extending from the eyes towards the nostrils with dark-brown to black lower margins, coupled usually with a black spot on the muzzle above the nose (2) (3) (5). The male’s horns are quite long (22 to 29.4 centimetres), straight and thick basally, with a slight lyrate form and prominent rings, while those of females are generally shorter (5.8 to 11.5 centimetres), un-ringed, irregular in shape, and often bent, crooked or broken (2) (3). Males of northern subspecies have longer horns than southern desert subspecies, and those of the Arabian Gulf region are shortest and more strongly outbowed. Northern Palestine gazelles (Gazella gazella gazella) are generally the largest of the mountain gazelle subspecies, while the southern desert subspecies are much lighter (only 12 to 16 kilograms), but longer-legged and with a relatively longer body and ears (2).

The mountain gazelle was once distributed much more widely across the whole of Arabian Peninsula, and also in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria (3), but many former populations have now disappeared completely (2). At present mountain gazelles remain along the Red Sea coast and in the Asir Mountains in Saudi Arabia (6) (7), on the Farasan Islands in the Red Sea off the southwest coast of Saudi Arabia (1), along the coast and mountains of Yemen and Oman (8) and in the United Arab Emirates (9). Apparently, Iranian gazelles on the Forur Island in the Arabian Gulf are also one of the mountain gazelle subspecies (2). Two populations of this gazelle occur in Israel: G. g. gazella, which lives in the hills and mountains of the north part of country, and a small desert population of G. g. acaciae, which is left only in the south part of the Arava Rift Valley (Negev) (2).

Mountain gazelles live in low altitude mountains, sometimes in very steep terrain, but avoid rocky areas and walking on rocks. They prefer plateaus, hilly relief, foothills and valleys between mountains and open habitats or areas with light forest in gravel or sandy plains (2) (3), but also occur in regions of real desert and coastal dunes (1). In Arabia, they usually live on rough terrain of mountain beds, gorges, and rolling hills (10). Mountain gazelles can withstand severe climatic conditions. They live in very hot and dry Jordan Valley, the Negev Desert, and the Nafud and Dhofar Deserts, where mid-day temperature can reach 45 degrees Celsius, and in northern Israel where sub-zero temperatures are not rare on winter nights and snow can cover the ground for several days (2).

The mountain gazelle lives in small groups of three to eight individuals, sometimes more. Their social structure consists of territorial solitary males, which stay and keep their territory all year round; temporary or quite permanent groups of one to several females with their young; and thirdly, small bachelor male herds (2) (3). Males vie for control of territories, but border conflicts between two neighbours are usually more ritualised than violent, consisting of “air-cushion” fights involving a series of head-on charges in which the contestants stop about 30 centimetres apart (3) (4). However, in battles between the present owner of a territory and a younger opponent attempting to take possession of his territory, males can inflict serious wounds to each other and even break opponents’ legs (11).

Males follow female groups passing or grazing in their territory. In Israel, acacia gazelles (G. g. acaciae) living in deserts can breed throughout the year, but there are two birth peaks: in spring (March to May) and in autumn (October), though most young of the autumn peak will die. However, during hot summers and cold winters females give birth very rarely (12). In Oman, these gazelles can also breed twice a year (8). In contrast, northern populations of Palestine mountain gazelles (G. g. gazella) have births later (April to June) than desert populations and mostly once a year (2). A female leaves a herd several days before birth and stays alone (together with her young) after the birth for up to two months. A single fawn is born after a gestation period of around 180 days, and can stand and walk shortly after birth (3). During the first weeks young spend most of the day lying curled up with eyes closed at their hidden location. The mother grazes nearby and guards her infant, attacking small predators (foxes) or trying to lead larger predators (jackal, wolf) away. From three to six weeks of age young gradually begin to accompany their mother and start to feed on solid food. The suckling period can last three to four months, rarely longer (2). While females may remain with their mother for life, males leave the maternal herd at around six months old to join a herd of young bachelor males (3). Females can first give birth at the age of one year, but two years is more common, and males can impregnate at 15 to 20 months, but in reality they rarely participate in breeding until they occupy their own territory at the age three years old. The life-span is 13 years in captivity and not more than 8 years in the wild (2).

These gazelles are diurnal, though they may graze during moonlit nights as well, especially under pressure of intensive human activity where natural conditions are disrupted (2). Normally they feed at dawn and dusk and rest during the hottest part of the day (3) (5), but gazelles in high altitude barren plains near Ma’abar, Yemen, have only been seen by day, whereas those in the lowlands near Hodeid have only been seen at dusk and night (2). All subspecies are browsers, except for the Palestine mountain gazelle (G. g. gazella), which is a typical grazer. The diet comprises grasses, herbs and shrubs, depending on the habitat, but very few plants will be completely rejected (2) (3). This gazelle’s distribution in the Arabian Peninsula and Israel is closely related to the distribution of Acacia trees, with the leaves and pods of these trees forming the bulk of the diet. Commonly they reach Acacia branches by standing on their hind legs and leaning on the trees with their front (2). Where water is scarce, gazelles improve their water balance by digging for bulbs, corms and other succulent subterranean plant organs (2).

The threats to the mountain gazelle vary across the species’ range, but the primary causes of decline are habitat loss and hunting. Important habitat has been lost to agricultural developments, fencing of pasture for livestock, and the construction of human settlements and roads (1). Habitat deterioration has had a major impact on the Acacia gazelle (G. g. acaciae) in Israel, where the water table has fallen due to abstraction of underground water sources for agriculture. This has caused essential food sources such as Acacia trees and bushes to dry up and perennial plants to disappear, and the gazelle population is now less than 20 individuals (13). Since the remaining population is so small, inbreeding is a major threat, which can result in reduced genetic diversity that leaves the subspecies vulnerable to stochastic factors. Additionally, wolves (Canis lupus) and jackals (C. aureus) in Israel are increasingly preying upon this rare subspecies, as well as on the Palestine mountain gazelle (G. g. gazella) (1). The mountain gazelle has and continues to be hunted across much of its range for its skins, meat, trophy horns (3), for sport and for being a crop pest, while live capture for private collections is a major threat in Oman (1).

Shooting of the Palestine mountain gazelle (G. g. gazella) was legally banned in Israel in 1993 because of declining numbers (1), and stricter laws in most areas have reduced poaching of this species (3). By contrast, the acacia gazelle (G. g. acaciae) was under protection from the first day it was described in Israel in 1964 (14). However, habitat loss and exploitation continue to threaten populations, particularly those outside of protected areas (3). The Arabian mountain gazelle (G. g. cora) is found in the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Wadi Sareen Tahr Reserve, Jebel Samhan National Reserve, and As Saleel National Park in Oman, and reintroduced populations occur in the Ibex Reserve, Al-Khunfah Reserve and Uruq Bani Ma'arid Reserve in Saudi Arabia, but legal protection is not always effectively enforced (1). The Farasan Islands on which the Farasan gazelle (G. g. farasani) occurs have been a nature reserve under the control of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) since 1988, which carries out aerial censuses every two to three years. The habitat of the tiny acacia gazelle (G. g. acaciae) population recently became protected, and this rare subspecies has been given supplementary food in the past and the natural vegetation was irrigated (1). These measures lead the population to increase from just 13 gazelles (in 1995) to 24 individuals (in 2000) (11). Nevertheless, this Critically Endangered subspecies has remained in an extremely precarious position since, with its numbers having fluctuated for several years more or less around 20 individuals, and the threat of extinction still looms dangerously close. The decision (as of 27.12.2004) of the Israel Nature Reserve and National Parks Protection Authority to stop providing supplementary food and irrigation, and also to fence the gazelles instead of protecting them against wolves and jackals and reducing carnivore numbers, has given the acacia gazelle little chance of survival. As a result, the number dropped down to just 12 individuals in 2005 (15). Thus, this sad situation should act as a powerful incentive to do more to protect the other subspecies of mountain gazelle, in order that they should never reach a similar state.

For more information on the mountain gazelle see:

For more information on the conservation of Arabian wildlife see:

Written and authenticated (20/12/06) by Dr. David Blank, Field Zoologist and International expert for the Wetland Biodiversity Conservation Project in China (United Nations Development Programme).

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2009)
  2. Mendelssohn, H., Yom-Tov, Y. and Groves, C.P. (1995) Gazella gazelle. Mammalian Species, 490: 1 - 7.
  3. Animal Diversity Web (May, 2006)
  4. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Arabian Wildlife (May, 2006)
  6. Nader, I.A. (1989) Rare and endangered mammals of Saudi Arabia. In: Abu-Zinada, A.H., Goriup, P.D. and Nader, I.A. (Eds) Wildlife conservation and development in Saudi Arabia. Proceedings of the First Symposium, Riayadh 1987. National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD), Publication No. 3, Riayadh.
  7. Thouless, C.R. and Al Bassri, K. (1991) The taxanomic status of the Farasan Island gazelle. Journal of Zoology (London), 223: 151 - 159.
  8. Harrison, D.L. (1968) Mammals of Arabia, Vol. 2. Ernest Benn, London.
  9. Gross, C. (1987) Mammals of the southern Gulf. Motivate Publishing, Dubai.
  10. Habibi, K. (1992) Arabian gazelles. National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development. Publication No. 4, Riayadh.
  11. Blank, D.A. (2000) Acacia gazelle increases with habitat improvement. Gnusletter, 19(1): 11 - 13.
  12. Blank, D.A. and Shalmon, B. (2003) Births and mortality of young in Gazella gazella in various seasons. Theriological Fauna of Russia and adjacent areas, Materials of International Conference, 6-7 February 2003, Moscow.
  13. Blank, D.A. (1996) The Acacia gazelle: extinction of a subspecies. Gnusletter, 15(2): 7 - 9.
  14. Yom-Tov, Y. and Ilani, G. (1987) The numerical status of Gazella dorcas and Gazella gazella in the southern Negev Desert, Israel. Biological Conservation, 40: 245 - 253.
  15. Estes, R.D. (2005) Sunset of the Acacia gazelle. Gnusletter, 24(1): 6 - 7. Available at: