Description and biology
The dama gazelle, a graceful antelope found in the Sahara Desert region of Africa, has long legs, a long neck, and ringed horns curved back in the shape of a lyre (musical instrument). Its neck and a portion of its back are reddish brown in color, while the rest of its body is white (including one spot on the inside of its neck).
An average dama gazelle has a head and body length of 40 to 67 inches (102 to 170 centimeters) and measures 35 to 42 inches (89 and 107 centimeters) high at its shoulder. Its tail, white with a black tip, extends 9 to 12 inches (23 to 30 centimeters). The animal weighs between 90 and 185 pounds (41 and 84 kilograms).
Like most species of gazelle, the dama gazelle has keen senses of hearing and smell. It grazes on shrubs and trees such as acacia and desert date. This gazelle travels alone or in small groups in search of food. A female dama gazelle gives birth usually to one infant after a gestation (pregnancy) period of 160 to 220 days.
Habitat and current distribution
Once populous in the countries of Libya and Morocco, the dama gazelle is now virtually extinct in northern Africa. The animal currently ranges across several countries in central and western Africa. A few thousand are found in Mali, Chad, and Niger. Only very small and scattered populations survive in other African countries.
In its range, the dama gazelle inhabits the arid (dry) grassy zone between the Sahara and the Sahel (an semiarid area south of the Sahara). It prefers to live on stony or rocky terrain, especially around the edges of hills.
History and conservation measures
Although protected areas exist in the dama gazelle’s range, such as the Ouadi Rime–Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve in Chad and the Aïr and Ténère National Nature Reserve in Niger, they afford the animal little security. Illegal hunting, especially from motor vehicles, occurs inside and outside the reserves.
The need to feed an expanding human population also threatens the animals. Dama gazelle habitat is disappearing as irrigation and other agricultural methods have turned African deserts and grasslands into farmland.
Facing competition from grazing livestock, dama gazelles have been forced to move south of their usual range in search of food. Such movement has brought the animals into even greater contact with humans. The result has been increased hunting.
The future of the dama gazelle is not certain, but some recovery programs are underway. The species was extinct in Senegal, but it has been reintroduced there. By 1997, there were at least 25 animals living in Senegal as part of a semicaptive breeding program.