Goitered gazelles are animals native to Central Asia. They inhabit desert, steppe, semidesert grasslands, foothills and mountain valleys. There are estimated to be around 80,000 to 90,000 of them in Central Asia, the Middle East and Arabia. They are 90 to 126 centimeters in length, with a 10 to 23 centimeters tail. They stand 58 to 80 centimeters at the shoulder and weigh 18 to 40 kilograms. ~

“The large cylinder of cartilage that bulges from the male’s throat amplifies the bellowing call used to attract females and intimidate rivals in the mating season. Males mark their territory with urine, dun and glandular secretions.

Goitered gazelles form large herds. Small related groups break off from the herd at calving time, when females give birth to twins. The mother hides her calves while grazing. Moving them to different place every time they nurse

Four subspecies of goitered gazelle have been identified: 1) Mongolian goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana), 2) Arabian sand gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa marica), 3) Yarkand gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa yarkandensis), and 4) Persian goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa subgutturosa). [Source: Gazelles: Facts & Pictures]

Range and Habitat of the Goitered Gazelle

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Goitered gazelle are common in the southern Arabian Peninsula, through southern Kazakhstan and Mongolia, to northwestern China. Elsewhere, they have significantly declined and occur mostly in remote areas or on protected reserves. Small populations exist in western and southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. In southeastern Turkey, northern Saudi Arabia, the Rub al Khali Desert, and Wahiba Sands of Oman much larger populations occur. In the central deserts of Iran, goitered gazelles are common and have begun to increase in protected regions. They have been introduced to Barsa-Kel’mes and Ogurchinsky Islands in the Aral and Caspian Sea, respectively, and to locations throughout the United Arab Emirates. [Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan  ~]

“Goitered gazelle inhabit various types of desert and semiarid terrain occurring in foothills and montane valleys. They graze at the edge of cultivated land, while avoiding land used for cultivation or livestock grazing. Their habitats range from clayey and sandy soil to basalt deserts or salt flats. The can occupy areas virtually absent of vegetation to areas that support grasses, forbs, and shrubs. Goitered gazelle are limited in their northern distributions by areas where snow depths reach 10 to 15 cm during winter. During winter they inhabit windy snow-free areas and use deep valleys, low mountain canyons, or dense shrubs as shelter from the wind. Throughout their geographic range, they can occupy habitat from sea level to 3,500 meters. In Iran they are found from sea level to about 2,100 meters and from 1,050 meters to 2,100 in Pakistan. In Afghanistan they are only found below 1,000 meters. Goitered gazelle often occupy higher altitudes during summer, ranging from 3,000 meters to 3,500 meters in the mountains of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China.” ~

Characteristics of the Goitered Gazelle

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Goitered gazelle are medium-sized, lightly built ungulates; however, they have a more robust body type than most other Asian Gazella species. Goitered gazelle get their name from the goiter-like enlargement on their larynx. They are sexually dimorphic as males are larger than females and have longer horns and larger goiters than females. Adult males range in mass from 20 to 43 kilograms and adult females range in mass from 18 to 33 kilograms. Adult males have long, black horns that are 203 to 340 millimeters long, which are close together at their base and curve away from each toward the distal ends. Unlike most other gazelle species, females are generally hornless. Goitered gazelle have long ears with large black eyes. At the end of their long slender legs are small black hooves. The coxofemoral joint muscle is strengthened in goitered gazelles, enabling a strong thrusting motion that stabilizes running in rough terrain. Pelage color varies geographically, from white to brown with shades of grey, red, and yellow. Facial pelage is often white and tends to fade with age. They have relatively a short tail, which is covered with dark brown or black hair. In the winter their pelage becomes longer, thicker, and lighter in color when compared to summer pelage. [Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan~]

“The skull of goitered gazelle has an inflated and less downwardly deflected posterior braincase. Their occipito-parietal suture is angular, the premaxillae is nearly straight, and the fronto-nasal and palato-maxillary sutures are V-shaped. In addition to their well developed lachrymal fossae, they have large, inflated tympanic bullae lacking ventral ridges. Finally, the supraorbital foramina are recessed in deep pits and male skulls are easily identified by their large horn cores, also known as the cornual process. Their skull is easily distinguished from other gazelle species by its larger size, broader palate and greater orbital width. Female skulls with horns are distinguished from female mountain gazelle skulls by their slightly greater orbital and palatal width and larger lachrymal pits. ~

“Goitered gazelle have high crowned (i.e., hypsodont) selenodont teeth. Their dental formula is 0/3, 0/1, 3/3, 3/3, for a total of 32 teeth. Calves are born with 3 incisors, 1 canine, and 3 deciduous cheekteeth on both sides of the lower jaw. In their upper jaw, calves are born with only 3 premolars on each side. During their first year, two permanent molars erupt and at 14 months, their third molar erupts along with the replacement of their deciduous molars with 3 premolars. ~

“Although 4 inguinal mammae can form, female goitered gazelle typically have 2. In general, goitered gazelle have inguinal, carpal, pedal, and preorbital glands. The inguinal and carpal glands secrete a yellow, waxy substance with a musky odor. Their preorbital glands produce a black secretion and can be much larger in males. ~

Reproduction and Offspring of the Goitered Gazelle

According to Animal Diversity Web: “During the breeding season, which occurs from September to December, individual male goitered gazelle herd and chase females into their territories and only mate with females that remain in their territory for an extended period of time. Males compete for territory prior to mating season and mark their territories by defecating in small pits that they dig with their front hooves. Often, when males find a territorial pit that is already filled, he digs out the pit and refills it with his own excrement. Just prior to breeding season, inguinal and preorbital glands of male goitered gazelle swell and increase secretion volume for courtship. Male displays during courtship include neck stretching, nose-up posturing, releasing of pheromones, foreleg kicking, and assuming an erect posture. Courtship begins after females stay in a male’s territory overnight. [Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan  ~]

“While goitered gazelle form large herds in winter, gestating females leave and create small groups with one or two other gestating females. Most males mate with 2 to 12 females, however, some males do not mate at all. Males mount their mates by standing on their hind legs with their forelegs spread apart and touching her with only his pelvis. ~

“Goitered gazelle become sexually mature within 1 year. Although first estrus usually occurs between 6 and 18 months, females can conceive as early as 5 months old. Males can sire offspring as early as 10.5 months old, however, they do not usually mate before 1.5 to 2.5 years old and can remain reproductively active for over 10 years. Onset of spermatogenesis occurs when the testis reach 20 millimeters in diameter. Males experience seasonal sperm production, which peaks during fall and spring. Breeding season occurs from November through January and can vary in timing throughout their range. Estrus usually lasts for about 12 hours, signaled by a slight swelling of the vulva. Copulation last 1 to 3 seconds, and gestation lasts for 148 to 159 days. Females move to areas with high ground or vegetative cover prior to birthing. Young are usually born between March and May. Most adult females (3 to 7 years old) have twins, although young and old females generally give birth to a single calf. On average, calves weigh 1.86 kilograms at birth and are completely weaned by 6 months, at which point they become independent of parental care. ~

“Goitered gazelle give birth to precocious young that can stand and nurse within 10 to 15 minutes after birth. After birth, females tend to graze 50 to 500 meters from their calves and seek a new hiding place for their calves after each nursing bout. If a female has twins, she often keeps them 50 to 1,000 meters apart for the first 4 to 6 days. Calves are nursed 2 to 4 times a day during their first 6 weeks and are nursed for at least 3 to 6 months. Calves are able to graze and drink water at 4 to 6 weeks old. Goitered gazelle calves have extremely high growth rates during their first month of life, with 50 percent of their growth occurring within the first 10 days after birth. At 18 to 19 months, most calves have reached adult size. Calves are born with whirls of hair were their horns develop. Horn growth occurs at 3 to 6 months and is complete by 1 to 1.5 years. Male horns continue to grow until age 6, whereas female's reach full size by 2 to 3 years old.” ~

Behavior of Goitered Gazelle

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Goitered gazelles travel in small family groups of 2 to 9 individuals, although herds in the thousands have been recorded as well. During breeding season, females and young gather into herds of 10 to 30 individuals. Adult males remain solitary and become extremely territorial, patrolling and marking their territories with dung, urine, preorbital gland secretions, or by scraping the ground with their horns or forelegs. During spring, herds segregate into smaller groups and pregnant females become solitary prior to giving birth. [Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan ~]

“Goitered gazelles feed during early morning and afternoon in the summer and can become nocturnal in areas where they are heavily hunted. During winter, they graze nearly continuously, resting briefly at midday. When they are excited or disturbed, goitered gazelles perform a series of stiff-legged jumps. When running at high speeds, they gallop with their necks outstretched and tails upright. ~

“Average home range size of goitered gazelles has not been documented. However, they often travel 10 to 15  kilometers throughout the day, moving between night pastures, watering holes, and resting areas. ~

“Goitered gazelles communicate using a series of deep grunts, hissing, moos and wheezing. Grunts are made by adults and young and before running, they often make a nasal hiss as an alarm. Females make hoarse, low-pitched sounds to call their young and young respond by making a low-pitched “moo”. During breeding season, males make a low, basal wheezing sound, which can be heard 100 to 150 meters away. They also use glandular secretions to demarcate territorial boundaries and communicate with conspecifics, especially during breeding season.” ~

Eating Behavior, Mortality and Predation of Goitered Gazelle

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Goitered gazelles are herbivores and generally eat grasses. Often their diet includes halophytes, composites, legumes, caltrops, ephedras, gourds, leadworts, and tamarisks. In agricultural areas, the variety of food eaten by goitered gazelles expands to include fruits, barley shoots, chick peas, cotton, dates, maize, melons, onions, sugar cane, and wheat. Goitered gazelles are facultative drinkers and gain a majority of their water from ingested plant material. They appear to prefer plants with high protein content. In captivity, goitered gazelles are fed alfalfa, oats, enriched grain pellets, and sulfur-free salt blocks. Because they are obligate herbivores, goitered gazelle have four-chambered stomachs (1 true stomach, 3 false stomachs) in which cellulolytic digestion occurs and are capable of storing graze in one or more of their "false stomachs". [Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan,~]

“The main predator of goitered gazelle is gray wolves. During winter, when snow cover increases, wolves become especially effective predators due to increased vulnerability of animals. Tigers also prey on gazelle at water holes, and in Turkmenistan, they are hunted by cheetahs. Young goitered gazelle are preyed on by foxes, feral dogs, caracals, imperial eagles, and brown-necked ravens. ~

“Bovids, such as goitered gazelle, are an important food sources for a number of different carnivores. As bovid populations decline, so too will those animals that depend on them. For example, the decline of cheetahs is often attributed habitat loss. However, cheetahs primarily prey upon small to medium sized bovids, specifically gazelle. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2 species of gazelle are extinct, while 10 more are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. In north Africa, as preferred prey species have declined, more and more cheetahs are turning to livestock for prey. Consequently, these cheetahs are then killed as pests. As a result, one of the major directives for cheetah conservation is restoration of wild prey species, most of which are small to medium-sized bovids. ~

“Annual mortality rates for goitered gazelle vary in relation to sex and age class. Female mortality rates range between 9 and 18 percent, whereas male mortality rates range between 27 and 58 percent. Mortality rates for calves and juveniles are highly variable, ranging between 3 and 58 percent. Mortality rates tend to be lowest during summer and highest during winter. The longest known lifespan of goitered gazelles in the wild is 12 years, with an average lifespan of 6 years. The longest known lifespan of captive goitered gazelles is 20 years. ~

“Primary causes of natural mortality in goitered gazelles include deep snow and ice-covered ground, which severely limits forage availability during winter. Mortality is also caused by entrapment in drying asphalt, drowning, and car collisions. In captive animals, causes of mortality include stress or trauma, fence injuries, and intraspecific fighting. Pathogens known to cause mortality among goitered gazelles include Corynebacterium pyogenes, Mycobacterium, Cryptosporidium, and Escherichia coli.” ~

Humans and the Ecosystem Roles of Goitered Gazelles

According to Animal Diversity Web: “Goitered gazelle are host to numerous species of parasites. Eighteen species of parasitic worms have been found in goitered gazelle in Kazakhstan, although their pathogenic effect is currently unknown. The larvae of 2 species of ectoparasitic botfly, Pavlovskiata subgutturosae and Crivellia corinnae, are commonly found implanted in the skin of goitered gazelle. They are also vulnerable to parasitic arthropods such as ticks and lice during summer. In addition to being an important prey item for numerous species mammals and birds, goitered gazelle forage on various types of plants and may compete with saiga antelope for forage in some areas throughout their geographic range.  [Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan  ~]

“Goitered gazelles are hunted for their meat and hide, which is considered high quality and is processed into chamois and box calf. A single goitered gazelle yields between 12 and 18 kilograms of meat and 0.6 to 0.7 square meters of hide. Goitered gazelle are hunted for sport, challenging hunters with their ability to run at high speeds. In addition, they are sometimes used as pets or given as gifts. ~

Goitered gazelles occasionally damage agricultural plants such as cotton. They also consume saxaul shoots, which is considered one of the most valuable desert plants throughout the goitered gazelles geographic range. In spring and fall, they often intrude into domestic sheep pastures.” ~

Conservation Status of Behavior of Goitered Gazelle

According to Animal Diversity Web: “In 1900s, goitered gazelles were abundant, found in almost every desert or semi-desert area throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In the mid-1900's, nearly one million were estimated to have lived in the Soviet Union alone. In 2001, their entire population was estimated at 120,000 to 140,000. This significant decrease has occurred in the past decade, and the rate of decrease is now measured to be more than 30 percent over the last ten years. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies goitered gazelles as vulnerable. While population declines are occurring throughout their entire range, declines are particularly dramatic in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, southeast Turkey and Azerbaijan. Local extirpations have occurred in Kuwait, Georgia, and possibly Kyrgyzstan. Populations in Mongolia, where about a half the current population resides, are also in decline. Major threats include unrestrained poaching and habitat destruction. Habitat destruction is primarily due to economic and agricultural development. In central Asia, harsh winters appear to have had a significant negative effect on goitered gazelle abundance. [Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan ~]

“In the mid to late 1300s, Muslim armies under the command of Timur Leng were noted hunters of goitered gazelle, killing an estimated 40,000 each year. After automobiles were introduced in the 1930's, hunting for goitered gazelles became particularly easy as people would chase animals in their cars during the day, or shoot them at night while "shining" them (i.e., using artificial lights to locate and temporarily freeze animals) with their headlights. Using automobiles to hunt goitered gazelles was outlawed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the 1940's. ~

“Since the 1950s, legal protection has been enforced either nationally or sub-nationally throughout most of goitered gazelles' geographic range. Although numerous reintroductions have been attempted, conservation efforts have been unsuccessful. Some countries (e.g., Turkey and Uzbekistan) have developed captive breeding programs and much of the current population uses protected habitat. Many gazelle die during winter due to malnutrition. Future conservation efforts may include restricting livestock grazing areas during winter or restricting livestock from entering habitat reserves used by goitered gazelles.” ~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian,  National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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