The graceful gazelle are members of the antelope family that are found in the deserts, savannahs, and grasslands of Africa, India, and central Asia.
There are seven species of gazelle, and the most well-known is the Thomson’s gazelle of Africa. Nearly all gazelle species are endangered or threatened.
Most varieties of gazelle are light tan or fawn-colored. They stand between two and three and a half feet tall at the shoulder. Slender and dainty, gazelles are traditionally associated with feminine beauty.
Gazelles are prey animals and the favorite meal of predators like lions, leopards, cheetahs, and crocodiles.
Often, their only hope of survival lies in their ability to run as fast as 60 miles per hour for short bursts. They can also leap and jump to avoid capture.
A migratory animal, gazelles are browsers that search out grass, leaves, and other vegetation. They have adapted to get most of their water from the vegetation they eat, an important feature in their semi-arid habitat.
They have proportionately large salivary glands that help them digest their food without the need for water.
The mother gazelles nurse her fawns and protect them from predators, but they don’t necessarily live together.
The fawns hide in tall grassy areas and the mother gazelles visit her fawns at feeding time, but the rest of the time, she grazes in the general area.
She will defend her fawns from most predators, but she won’t attempt to fight off a lion or cheetah.
Gazelles are members of the same family as deer, goats, sheep, cattle, and antelope.
Gazelle and antelope-like animals are found across Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America, but there is a large variety that makes their home in Africa.
Let’s look at some of the gazelle’s cousins that share its African home habitat.
Scientific Name (family): Cephalophus
Quick Summary: An antelope-like animal that dives for cover
There are 22 species of duikers, medium-sized antelopes that are found in the forested regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Elusive and timid, the duikers prefer to stay in areas with thick vegetation so they can quickly take cover when it feels threatened.
In fact, the name duiker was adapted from the Afrikaans word for ‘to dive’ because it describes how the animal dives for cover when startled.
Duikers have stubby horns rather than the long, tall horns of the gazelle. Most varieties have shorter legs than the gazelle and are physically adapted to wooded habitats, as opposed to grasslands.
With their compact bodies and short, thick neck, the duikers can easily move through even the densest forest.
The size of the duiker depended on its species, its location, and its diet. The body size is directly related to the amount of food in the animal’s habitat.
In some duiker species, such as the common duiker, the female is noticeably larger than the male.
The duiker is similar to the gazelle in that it is a browsing animal that primarily eats leaves, grasses, shoots, and fruits. Duikers differ from gazelles in that they will also eat meat, typically in the form of insects and carrion.
Duikers have, however, been observed catching and eating small rodents and birds.
Scientific Name: Aepyceros melampus
Quick Summary: An antelope with long, curved horns
The impala is a medium-sized antelope that is native to the savannas and grasslands of southern and eastern Africa. Like gazelles, impalas are known for their speed.
They have been clocked at about 50 miles per hour, though they cannot sustain this speed for very long.
In addition to their quick sprints, impalas have impressive jumping skills. They can jump as high as 10 feet. They can bound as they run and can cover about 30 feet in a single bound.
Impalas are known for their distinctive, curved horns and their reddish-brown coats, white underbellies, and dark faces.
The horns, which are specific only to male impalas, can grow as long as 36 inches. Female impalas are not only hornless, but they are proportionately smaller than male impalas.
Unlike gazelles, impalas need a good supply of water in their diets. In fact, they are typically found near water sources. They graze and browse, nibbling on grasses, flowers, fruits, leaves, and vegetables.
When in a rut, the male impalas will fight each other for dominance and for the females. Males will use their long horns to fight each other.
They also use aggressive stances, grunts, and roars, and puffing out the fur on their necks to intimidate other males.
Scientific Name: Ourebi ourebi
Quick Summary: A dwarf antelope that has gazelle-like qualities
The oribi is considered a dwarf antelope, the only such species. Many biologists call this animal the smallest ruminant. It is, perhaps, more similar to the gazelle than any other antelope species.
A small antelope native to sub-Saharan Africa, the oribi has a petite, slender build and a reddish-brown coat. Male oribis have a distinctive tuft of black fur on their forehead.
Oribis stand between 20 to 30 inches tall and weigh only about 30 pounds.
Oribis can be found in wooded habitats, as well as grasslands and savannas. Like the gazelle, oribis are water-independent and satisfy their water needs with the food it eats.
Oribis are herbivores that graze and browse grasses, foliage, herbs, flowers, and fruits.
Quick and agile, the oribi can clear jump up to three feet and bound more than six feet long. They use their speed to escape from predators with short bursts of speed that can reach 50 miles per hour.
To confuse their pursuers, oribis will run in a zigzag pattern.
Scientific Name: Antidorcas marsupialis
Quick Summary: A pronking antelope
The springbok is a medium-sized antelope species that is known for its beautiful golden coat with a white underbelly and a dark band running down the center of its back.
Springboks have long, graceful legs and large ears. Both male and female springboks have horns, which a black, between 15 and 20 inches long, and curve at the end.
Springboks can be found in southern Africa’s grasslands and savannahs. Like gazelles, the springboks divide themselves into bachelor groups, all-female groups, and mixed harems.
Springboks have been clocked at 55 miles per hour. They also engage in ‘pronking’, the act of making a series of high, twisting, stiff-legged jumps into the air. They can jump higher than six and a half feet into the air.
Cheetahs, lions, leopards, jackals, and African wild dogs are the main threats to the springboks, as are humans who hunt them for their fur and meat.
Large eagles, such as the Verreaux’s eagle and tawny eagle, can attack baby springboks.
Springboks are similar to gazelles in that they can get all their water needs from their food. They can survive an entire dry season without taking a drink of water.
They are careful browsers who select to eat succulent leaves, flowers, grasses, and seeds.
Springboks gather in groups during the wet season and live in more solitary existences during the dry season, which is the opposite of what most other African mammals do.
Scientific Name (genus): Madoqua
Quick Summary: A dainty antelope that says its own name
The delicate-looking dik-dik is a thin, long-legged antelope that is native to the bushlands of southern and eastern Africa. With its dainty body, slim face, and outlined eyes, the dik-dik is one of the cuter members of the antelope family.
The dik-dik takes its name from the sound made by female dik-diks when they are sounding a danger alarm.
On average, Dik-diks stand between 12 and 15 inches tall at the shoulder, though females are noticeably larger than males.
Much of their height is thanks to their long legs. They use those legs to escape from predators and dik-diks have been clocked at speeds up to 26 miles per hour.
An unusual characteristic of the dik-dik is its long snout that resembles an anteater. This adaptation does not aid the dik-dik in acquiring food.
Biologists believe that it helps cook the animal in the hot African heat by allowing air to cool the dik-dik’s blood before it circulates throughout its body.
Male dik-diks have grooved horns that are only about three inches long. Both males and females are tannish brown in color with slightly lighter colored underbellies.
Surrounding each eye is a ring of black fur and a ring of white fur that makes the dik-dik’s eyes seem much larger than they are.
The eyes of the dik-dik hold another surprise. At the inside corner of each eye, the dik-dik has a gland that secretes a sticky substance.
By inserting twigs, leaves, or plant stems into this secretion, the dik-dik can mark its territory.
Scientific Name: Oreotragus oreotragus
Quick Summary: Making its home on rocky slopes
Native to eastern and southern regions of Africa, the klipspringer is the only remaining member of its genus.
It prefers to live in rocky terrain that is unsuitable for farming or building which means the klipspringer is one of the antelope species that doesn’t have to worry much about habitat loss.
The klipspringer’s mottled brown, gray, and reddish coat helps in blending into the rocks and crags. The fur of the klipspringer is much thicker and coarser than that of the gazelle and other African antelopes.
Klipspringers stand about 17 to 23 inches tall and have short horn spikes that a just a few inches long.
Unlike gazelles and other African antelopes, the klipspringers are monogamous.
A male and female will form a bonded pair that will remain together for years, often for their lifetime. In fact, the couples usually stay within a 20-foot radius of each other at all times.
The territories that the klipspringers establish are typically family units, the bonded pair, and their offspring.
The female will give birth to one calf per year during the birthing season, spring to early summer. The offspring remain with the mother for the first year of its life.
Scientific Name (genus): Redunca
Quick Summary: Build for quick starts
A distinguishing feature of the three species of reedbuck, a medium-sized African antelope, is that the horns on the males curve forward.
The three types of reedbucks are named for the habitat in which they live: the southern reedbuck, the mountain reedbuck, and the bohor reedbuck, which is found in the northern grasslands and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa.
Depending on the species and location, the reedbuck’s height can range between 25 and 41 inches tall, with males being slightly larger than females.
Coat color also varies. The mountain reedbuck is brownish gray while the bohor reedbuck has more golden fur and the southern reedbuck is a lighter tan color.
The mountain reedbucks have a similar adaptation as the gazelle in that they can forego drinking water for long periods of time and can satisfy their hydration needs through the green plants they consume.
Reedbucks are nocturnal grazers and rely on tall grasses or dense foliage to keep them hidden from predators.
The hind legs of the reedbucks are much more muscular and powerful than its front legs, which allows the animal to make quick jumps or sudden bursts of speed.
They are not built for the fast speeds of the gazelle but can sprint fast for short distances and make high bounds to escape from a predator. Reedbucks are most vulnerable to attacks by spotted hyenas and African wild dogs.
In reedbucks, biologists see the transition between the antelope species that live solitary lives and the antelope species that have complex social systems.
Reedbucks are not monogamous like the klipspringer or social like the springbok, but they are not completely solitary animals either.
Scientific Name: Taurotragus oryx
Quick Summary: the largest and slowest antelope species
Unlike the dik-dik and the oribi, the eland is a large African animal. The largest of all the antelope species, the eland can stand five feet tall at the shoulder and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds.
Don’t let their size fool you; the elands are docile creatures.
In addition to being the largest antelope species, the eland is also the slowest. Their top speed is only about 25 miles per hour and the eland can’t keep this pace for very long. The best they can do is a sustained trot of about 14 miles per hour.
Elands may not be great sprinters, but they can jump. If startled, they can jump more than eight feet in the air from a standing start.
Both sexes of elands have long, spiral horns. Males have horns that are shorter and thicker than those of the female elands. Male elands use their horns to spar with rival males during rutting season.
9. Greater Kudu
Scientific Name: Tragelaphus strepsiceros
Quick Summary: a bearded antelope
The greater kudu, a large antelope that inhabits the woodlands of eastern and southern Africa, is a vocal animal with more range of vocalizations than other antelope species.
The male kudus can make gasping, hissing, clucking, and grunting noises. The female kudus are less vocal than the males.
The coats of the kudus range from tan to bluish-gray to reddish brown. They have white vertical stripes, numbering between four and twelve, along the sides of their torsos. Males also have a white zigzag marking between their eyes.
Male kudus have goat-like beards and long horns that slant to the rear. The horns are quite lovely in that they gently twist.
Most kudu horns have two and a half twists, but rarely, a kudu with three full twists is observed.
The female kudus lack beards, nose markings, and horns. They are also smaller than the male kudus. Both sexes, however, have very large, alert ears.
10. East African Oryx
Scientific Name: Oryx beisa
Quick Summary: a long-horned antelope
The East African oryx, a medium-sized antelope, is known for its long, straight, ringed horns that are found on both males and females. The horns are thin but can reach lengths of up to 30 inches.
East African oryx are gray in color with white underbellies. The gray and white regions are separated by a band of black fur. There are also black accents on the animal’s neck, nose, forehead, and from the eye to the mouth.
The East African oryx has a different water conservation strategy than the gazelle. It raises its internal body temperature to prevent it from sweating and, thus, expending water. It stores the water it takes in from eating leaves, fruits, and grasses.
When migrating, the East African oryx travels in herds that can number as high as 35 animals.
The social structure within the herd is clearly defined. Females are situated in the front of the pack and the stronger males bring up the rear.
Scientific Name: Hippotragus equinus
Quick Summary: a horse-like antelope
Named for its reddish-brown color, the roan antelope lives in the savannas of southern, western, and central Africa. This animal has a black face with white cheeks and eyebrows. They also have small beards and long-ringed horns that curve backwards.
As the animal’s scientific name suggests, the roan antelope is built like a horse. It is one of the largest members of the antelope species.
Their average height is five and a half feet at the shoulders and males can weigh as much as 660 pounds.
Roan antelopes make their homes in the scrublands, grasslands, woodlands, and savannas. They form harem herds with one dominant male traveling with around a dozen females.
Its habitat often overlaps with other African antelopes.
Scientific Name: Raphicerus campestris
Quick Summary: a tiny antelope with rabbit-like ears
Like the dik-dik and the oribi, the steenbok is a delicate, pretty antelope that is native to southern and eastern Africa. It stands barely two feet tall at the shoulder and has large eyes and rabbit-like ears.
The steenbok has fawn-colored fur with white accents on its chin, throat, and eyes.
The steenbok, like the dik-dik, has scent glands located in a black circle near its eyes. The gland secretes a substance that the steenbok uses to mark its territory.
Most of the time, the steenboks live alone. During mating season, they use their scent markings to find other steenboks to mate with. Male steenboks will engage in displays of aggression to win the favor of a female.
To avoid a predator, steenboks will make sudden leaps and run in a zigzag pattern. They hide in tall grass in hopes of being overlooked by their predators.
Steenboks are the favorite meal of leopards, caracals, jackals, eagles, and pythons.
Scientific Name: Tragelaphus angasii
Quick Summary: a goat-like antelope
A large antelope with a spiral horn, the nyala is found in southern Africa. This antelope species more closely resembles its cousins, the goats.
The nyala has longer, shaggier fur than the short, sleek fur we see on the gazelle and other antelope species. Males have beards and long fur on their necks.
The nyala has the greatest size difference between males and females. Males can be as much as a foot taller than females.
Male nyalas have brown or gray fur, while females have brown fur with ten plus white vertical stripes on their flanks.
Male nyalas have spiral horns but females are hornless. The horns only have one or two twists, which differentiates them from the kudus.
Males also have scent glands on their feet so they leave their scent behind wherever they go.
Scientific Name: Damaliscus lunatus lunatus
Quick Summary: A quirky, yet fast antelope
The common tsessebe is an unusual antelope native to Africa. First, it is one of the fastest of all the antelope species, excluding the gazelle. They can reach speeds of nearly 58 miles per hour.
Female tsessebes form social groups. Young tsessebes are included in the group, however, young males are kicked out when they reach their first birthday.
Young males form their own herds with as many as three dozen young bulls.
Tsessebes have a number of quirky behaviors that biologists do not entirely understand. When battling for dominance and territory, the males horn the ground, high steps, and grunting.
They dip blades of grass into the secretions for their scent glands, located near their eyes, and transfer the secretion to their horns and heads.
The tsessebes press their mouths to the ground when they sleep and position their horns to point straight up. Stranger still, biologists have witnesses male tsessebes stand in lines, close their eyes, and sway their heads back and forth.
The reason for these behaviors is unknown.
Scientific Name: Nestotragus moschatus
Quick Summary: A shy and elusive antelope
A diminutive African antelope, the suni has a range from South Africa to Kenya. This is another antelope species that requires almost no water. It receives all the hydration it needs from the food that it eats.
Suni is only about a foot to a foot and a half tall. They are reddish in color with darker fur on their legs and sides and lighter fur on their chin, throat, and belly. The suni has black outlines around its eyes and on top of its hooves.
Sunis mark their territories with secretions from their scent glands. Males defend their territories from other males.
An unusual characteristic of the suni is that the members of a certain territory use a communal dung pile just outside their territory to keep predators away from the group.
Sunis are shy and timid animals that hide during the day. They search for food at night to avoid predators such as snakes, hyenas, and wild dogs.
16. Sharpe’s Grysbok
Scientific Name: Raphicerus sharpei
Quick Summary: A diminutive antelope with strong, tough teeth.
Like the duiker, the Sharpe’s grysbok is a small antelope that stands only about 20 inches tall. It is, however, stockier than the duiker with longer fur. It is reddish fur with white fur on its underbelly, throat, and muzzle.
The Sharpe’s grysbok looks like it is standing with its rump in the air because its hind legs are longer than its front ones. This helps the animal dart through the underbrush and leap away from its predators.
The Sharpe’s grysbok has a large mouth and dense teeth for grinding its food.
When it browses for food during the dry season, the food is tougher and harder to chew, so this adaptation ensures the antelope still gets the nutritional value from the food it finds.
Like the suni, the Sharpe’s grysbok uses a communal toilet area. They take shelter in bushes or grasslands but will bound away with quick, hopping leaps when it detects trouble.
Africa is home to the largest number of antelope species.
Antelopes, members of the same family as deer, goats, bison, and sheep, are prey items for the larger carnivorous predators that make life in Africa, including lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and cheetahs, but members of the antelope family have learned to use speed to escape from predators.
The gazelle, in particular, is a speedy sprinter that uses short bursts of speed to escape.
Browsers and grazers, some African antelopes, like the gazelle, mountain reedbucks, and springboks have a unique adaptation that allows them to obtain all the water they require from the plants that they eat so they need very little water to drink.
Gazelles, dik-diks, oribi, and other African antelopes are beautiful, graceful animals. Slender and petite, many of the African antelopes have striking colorations and distinctive horns that add to their beauty.