Dorcas gazelles are small and common gazelles adapted to semidesert climates of Africa and Arabia. They have long ears and strongly curved horns, which bow outwards then turn inwards and forwards at the tips. Both males and females have horns although female horns are much thinner, lighter, and less curved. Dorcas gazelles vary in color depending on location; some have very pale, fawn-colored coats. The white underside is bordered with a brown stripe, above which is a sandy stripe. The forehead and face are darker than the body. Subspecies from north of the Sahara tend to be more ochre in color, and have dark flanks and facial stripes. Populations in Israel and around the Red Sea are darker and more reddish.
Dorcas gazelles are found in northern Africa, and the Sahara and Negev deserts including Algeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Somalia, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Sudan, Israel, and Jordan. These gazelles live in savannahs, steppes, small sand dune fields, wadis, mountain desert and in semi-deserts.
Dorcas gazelles are social animals. However when conditions are harsh, these gazelles live in pairs, but when conditions are more favorable, they join together in family herds with one adult male, several females, and young. Dorcas gazelles are highly adapted to the desert. They are able to withstand high temperatures, but when it is very hot, they are active mainly from dusk to dawn. In areas where they face human predation, they tend to be active only at night to avoid hunters. When Dorcas gazelles forage, they may occasionally stand on their hind legs to get leaves or some fruits from trees, and after rain, they have been observed digging out bulbs from the ground. When threatened these gazelles are able to run at speeds up to 80-96 km/h (50-60 mph). They tail-twitch and make bouncing leaps with their heads held high (stotting), possibly to announce they have seen a predator. Dorcas gazelles communicate with each other vocally. They can produce a long growling sound that signals annoyance. Their alarm call sounds like a short bark. They will make a louder call when feeling serious danger or if they are in pain. In order to call their calves, females use a low grunt.
Dorcas gazelles are herbivores (folivores, frugivores). They feed on leaves, flowers, and pods of many species of acacia trees, as well as the leaves, twigs, and fruits of various bushes. They can go their entire lives without drinking, as they can get all of the moisture they need from the plants in their diets. However, gazelles do drink when water is available.
Dorcas gazelles are polygynous, which means that males mate with more than one female during the breeding season. However, depending on climate conditions, when food resources are scarce, Dorcas gazelles live in pairs which may suggest that they can be monogamous. During the breeding season, adult males become territorial and mark their range with dung. Mating usually takes place from September to November. Gestation lasts six months after which a single calf is born, although twins have also been reported. The newborn is well developed at birth, with fur and open eyes. Within the first hour, the calf attempts to stand, and it will suckle on this first day of life. In the first two weeks, the young gazelle lies curled up in a scrape on the ground or beneath bushes while the mother grazes close by. The young then starts to follow its mother around and begins to take solid food. After around three months, the calf stops suckling and is fully weaned.
The population of Dorcas gazelles has declined throughout its range due to overhunting. Today, the biggest threat to these gazelles is ever-expanding human civilization, which shrinks their habitat by converting it to farmland, and by introducing new flocks of domestic sheep and goats which compete with gazelles for grassland. In Morocco, Dorcas gazelles suffer from the trade of their pelts and horns for decorative and medicinal purposes. This trade could be having a significant negative impact on the local populations of this species. In Djibouti, young Dorcas gazelles are captured for the pet trade.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Dorcas gazelle is unknown. However, there are estimated populations of the species in the following areas: in Morocco - 800-2,000 individuals; in Israel - less than 2,000 individuals; in Egypt - 1,000-2,000 individuals; in Niger - 3,000 individuals. Currently, Dorcas gazelles are classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Dorca gazelles play a very important role in their ecosystem. They are main seed dispersers of many species of acacia trees in the area between the Red Sea and Israel.