Did you know that the gerenuk eats while standing on two legs?
Photo: Frederic Salein/Public Domain.
An unusual antelope roams the Horn of Africa, the northeast corner of the African continent that juts out into the Arabian Sea and comprises the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. This antelope is called the gerenuk, a Somalian word for ‘giraffe-necked’. Growing up to a length of 140-160 cm., it has a small head, long neck, and a short tail that ends in a tuft of black hair. Also known as Waller’s gazelle, it feeds on the tender leaves of high branches by standing on its hind legs and stretching its long neck. Apart from leaves, it also feeds on shoots of prickly bushes, buds, flowers, fruit and climbing plants.
The gerenuk has a white underside and a distinctly brown back. The male, weighing (30-35 kg.) slightly more than the female, has short and graceful S-shaped horns. It has scent glands right below its eyes, which release a tar-like substance that the male deposits on twigs and bushes to mark its territory and court females. The gerenuk lives in small groups of females and young ones, including some young males. The male may live alone or form small groups of its own. The female gives birth to one to two offspring in a single year. It uses several sounds to communicate such as a whistle when troubled, a loud bleat or buzzing sound when in danger, and a soft bleat to call out to young ones.
It prefers areas with sparse woody vegetation, dry, flat thornbush and semiarid bushlands that give it just enough cover to hide. The gerenuk was once found beyond its present limited range. However, destruction and degradation of its habitat, agriculture and hunting has left the species ‘Near Threatened’.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, March 2016.