Temporal range: Pliocene to recent
Several, see text
A gazelle is one of many antelope species in the genus Gazella. This article also deals with the seven species included in two further genera, Eudorcas and Nanger, which were formerly considered subgenera of Gazella. A third former subgenus, Procapra, includes three living species of Asian gazelles.
Gazelles are known as swift animals. Some are able to run at bursts as high as 100 km/h (60 mph) or run at a sustained speed of 50 km/h (30 mph). Gazelles are found mostly in the deserts, grasslands, and savannas of Africa; but they are also found in southwest and central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. They tend to live in herds, and eat fine, easily digestible plants and leaves.
Gazelles are relatively small antelopes, most standing 60–110 cm (2–3.5 ft) high at the shoulder, and are generally fawn-colored.
The gazelle genera are Gazella, Eudorcas, and Nanger. The taxonomy of these genera is confused, and the classification of species and subspecies has been an unsettled issue. Currently, the genus Gazella is widely considered to contain about 10 species. One subspecies is extinct: the Queen of Sheba's gazelle. Most surviving gazelle species are considered threatened to varying degrees. Closely related to the true gazelles are the Tibetan goa and Mongolian gazelles (species of the genus Procapra), the blackbuck of Asia, and the African springbok.
One widely familiar gazelle is the African species Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsoni), which is around 60 to 70 cm (24 to 28 in) in height at the shoulder and is coloured brown and white with a distinguishing black stripe. The males have long, often curved, horns. Like many other prey species, Tommies and springboks (as they are familiarly called) exhibit a distinctive behaviour of stotting (running and jumping high before fleeing) when they are threatened by predators, such as cheetahs, lions, African wild dogs, crocodiles, hyenas, and leopards.
Gazelle is derived from Arabic: غزال ġazāl, Maghrebi pronunciation ġazēl. To Europe it first came to Old Spanish and Old French, and then around 1600 the word entered the English language. The Arab people traditionally hunted the gazelle. Appreciated for its grace, it is a symbol most commonly associated in Arabic literature with female beauty. In many countries in Northwestern Sub-Saharan Africa, the gazelle is commonly referred to as "dangelo", meaning "swift deer".
The gazelle, like the antelope to which it is a family of, is the totem of many African families such as the Joof family of the Senegambia region, the Bagananoa of Botswana in Southern Africa - said to be descended of the BaHurutshe, and the Eraraka (or Erarak) clan of Uganda. As common in many African societies, it is forbidden for the Joof or Eraraka to kill or touch the family totem.
One of the traditional themes of Arabic love poetry involves comparing the gazelle with the beloved, and linguists theorize ghazal, the word for love poetry in Arabic, is related to the word for gazelle. It is related that the Caliph Abd al-Malik (646–705) freed a gazelle that he had captured because of her resemblance to his beloved:
O likeness of Layla, never fear!
For I am your friend, today, O wild gazelle!
Then I say, after freeing her from her fetters:
You are free for the sake of Layla, for ever!
The theme is found in the ancient Hebrew Song of Songs. (8:14)
Come away, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag
on the spice-laden mountains.
For gazelle species by population, see List of even-toed ungulates by population
The gazelles are divided into three genera and numerous species.
|Genus||Common and binomial names||Image||Range|
|Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia|
|North and saharan Africa, Sinai and Southern Israel|
|Azerbaijan, eastern Georgia, part of Iran, parts of Iraq and southwestern Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Gobi Desert|
|Arabian sand gazelle
|Syrian Desert, southeastern Turkey, and Arabian Desert|
|Iran, Pakistan and India|
|Israel, the Golan Heights, Dubai and Turkey|
|Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan|
|Horn of Africa|
|Floodplain and savanna of South Sudan|
|The Sahel region of central Africa|
|Mountain areas of North Africa|
|Sahara desert and the Sahel|
|Northern Tanzania to South Sudan and Ethiopia, and from the Kenyan coast to Lake Victoria|
|Horn of Africa|
Fossils of genus Gazella are found in Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits of Eurasia and Africa. The tiny Gazella borbonica is one of the earliest European gazelles, characterized by its small size and short legs. Gazelles disappeared from Europe at the start of the Ice Age, but they survived in Africa and Middle East.