Dama gazelle is definitely one of the most elegant and graceful creatures around the globe. Additionally, it's the largest gazelle in the world. This adorable animal is endemic to arid habitats, found along the southern edges of the Sahara Desert. Unfortunately, Dama gazelle is now threatened with total extinction as a result of local climate change, encroachment, frequent military and civil conflict as well as excessive hunting. Gazelles are even-toed ungulates (otherwise called hoofed animals), which means that they exhibit an equal number of functional toes on each of their feet. These animals are widespread throughout Africa and Asia, where they are represented by 19 species.
These mammals are native to the region of African Sahel as well as Sahara Desert. Their former range used to cover Morocco and Egypt. Because of overhunting on this species, Dama gazelles are now found exclusively at the junction of Senegal (where they exist due to reintroduction) and Sudan (Chad; Mali; Niger). Preferred types of habitat for these gazelles are grasslands and semi-desert terrains. Nevertheless, they are often seen in marginal environments. They typically occupy stony plains, plateaus as well as mountain foothills.
Dama gazelles are diurnal and highly social creatures. They are known to gather into mixed groups of 10 - 20 individuals, including a single dominant male. The latter usually displays its social status by horning surrounding bushes and grasses. The dominant male may also remain apart from the herd, which is also a dominance display. Members of these herds spend their daytime hours travelling in search of suitable vegetation and water sources. Dama gazelles exhibit seasonal migration. With the onset of winter, they congregate in large groups of several hundred individuals in order to travel north to the Sahara desert. They will return to their Sahel range only by the dry season. Male Dama gazelles may use their horns in threat displays. These are demonstrations of their power, during which they usually perform head shaking and 'pretend' fights. Dama gazelles communicate with each other primarily through body language.
Dama gazelles exhibit polygynous mating system. During the reproductive season, males of this species fiercely defend their mating rights against each other. On the other hand, males often cooperate, forming groups and chasing females in order to keep the latter within the area as well as ward off other rival males. Dama gazelles mate in March-June. Gestation period lasts for 6 - 6.5 months, yielding a single baby, which remains hidden in a secluded place during the first few days of its life. After a while, the calf starts following its mother. Female Dama gazelles are known to be very careful and protective mothers. Moreover, pairs of females have been known to defend their young against jackals together, often attacking and chasing the latter. Weaning occurs at about 6 months of age, while the age of reproductive maturity is 9 - 12 months old for females and 1.5 - 2 years old for males.
This Critically Endangered species has currently lost almost all of its original range and population due to excessive hunting and poaching for its horns and meat. Dama gazelles are presently threatened by loss of their small remaining habitat, as a result of desertification. They also suffer from loss of important tree cover because of human activities such as clearance. Another noticeable concern is excessive grazing by livestock, which dries the land and makes these animals leave their territories. And finally, population numbers of Dama gazelles are directly affected by frequent civil unrests in countries of their range.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Dama gazelles is less than 500 individuals, including 100-200 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) and its numbers continue to decrease.
Due to their habit of grazing, these mammals act as key seed dispersers of Acacia trees. Additionally, Dama gazelles are hunted by numerous predators of their range (jackals, cheetahs, hyenas, lions), who typically hunt prey on plain terrains.