The slender-horned gazelle is the palest gazelle of the Sahara. It is recognized by its compact build (20-30kg), and pale creamy tone to the sandy brown body colour, separated from the white underside by a darker flank band. When running the gait is direct and headlong, with the blackish tail held aloft above a white rump. The face pattern is typical of all smaller gazelles, with the large dark eyes emphasized by black linings to the eyelids. Small dark tufts are present on the carpal glands of the front legs. Both males and females have relatively long horns which are characteristically tall and upright. Male horns are heavier and strongly annulated for more than half their length, forming a shallow curve from the side, rather straight from the front. Female horns are much finer, more cylindrical and tend to be straighter or gently curved, becoming much longer than the ears in older individuals.
Slender-horned gazelles are seen singly (usually adult males) or more often in small groups of 2-5, which occasionally coalesce into herds of 15-25 or more. Gestation is around 5.5 months. Twins are reported and it is probable that females adjust reproductive effort to conditions, with proportion of females giving birth, and the proportion producing twins, likely to vary widely between periods of drought and plenty. They are selective feeders, picking off flowers, fruits and young leaves. Important food species include Helianthemum confertum, Herniaria uniflorum, Lotus sp., and Echiochilon sp. Young shoots of the latex-laden Euphorbia guyoniana are also taken when fresh, while young leaves of Neurada procumbens, Heliotropium sp. and Cyperus sp. are taken on the dunes. Their movements have not been studied, but it is likely that they range over quite large areas depending on the distribution of pasture. The presence of slender-horned gazelles is often detected by the distinctive track lines they leave on the dunes, and by characteristic dung middens, which are used repeatedly by adult males, and possibly others too.
The major sand seas of the Sahara. They are particularly attracted to areas where the wave patterns of the larger dunes allow formation of gravel basins and flat plains of varying sizes in between them. They travel freely over the dunes, finding food and escape from threats, but the flat gravel ‘deflation’ zones between are also important feeding and resting sites. They encounter dorcas gazelles on the plains at the dune margins and share the interior with nomads and their livestock in season. Their overall distribution and movement across the ergs in relation to season, human activity and dune structure requires further study.
In recent years slender-horned gazelle have only been reported with certainty in four north African countries; Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. The main centres of known distribution are the Algerian Erg Occidental and Erg Erraoui and the border area of the Erg Oriental in Algeria and Tunisia. A small population in the vicinity of Siwa on the Egypt-Libya border of the Western Desert persists, but like other populations has been subject to severe intermittent hunting.
Although there is relatively extensive potential habitat the situation for slender-horned gazelle in Libya remains largely unreported in the last 25 years, and even then they were considered rare. In the past slender-horned gazelle have also been reported from suitable sand sea habitats in Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, and they are still reported from close to the Niger border in southern Algeria, but none of these locations have had verified sightings for several decades.
Endangered and believed to be decreasing under pressure from relentless hunting and increased human activity. In some areas this may be associated with industrial oil development, in others, with intermittent recreational hunting. Informal reports suggest slender-horned gazelles are target of a low level general demand for gazelle meat, which is periodically accelerated in association with special occasions.
This article was kindly contributed by Tim Wacher.
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