Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Gerenuk: The Giraffe-necked antelope

A female gerenuk, notice the long neck and small head
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Antilopinae
Genus: Litocranius
Species: Litocranius walleri
Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Common Name(s): Gerenuk, Waller's gazelle, giraffe-necked antelope

Meet the gerenuk, a long-necked species of antelope and the sole member of the genus Litocranius. The species occurs in dry thorn shrubland and desert in the Horn of Africa (or Somali Peninsula) and the African Great Lakes region.

The name gerenuk comes from the Somalian word "Garanuug" which not-surprisingly translates to "giraffe-necked".

From head to tail, gerenuks are about 150 cm (59 in) long. Males are slightly taller, at 89 - 105 cm (35–41 in) tall whereas females are usually 80 - 100 cm (31–39 in) tall. Male generuks are also heavier than females, with an average weight of 45 kg (99 lb), while females have an average weight of about 30 kg (66 lb).

The head is small compared to the body, but the eyes and ears are proportionately large. Males come with a set of horns and have a generally more muscular neck than females. Both sexes have ruddy brown coats with a paler underbelly. They have short, black tipped tails.

The species most distinctive trait is the remarkably long and skinny neck which can be elongated even further when required, e.g for activities like feeding off a tall tree.

The legs are long and slender and help the animal to achieve high speeds, something useful when trying to avoid predators. However, the extreme length of their legs makes them prone to fractures and other injuries.

Males reach sexual maturity at 1.5 years of age and females at around one year.

Individuals have been reported to live 13 years or more in captivity and at least eight years in the wild.

Male gerenuk in classical feeding pose
Male Gerenuk in Buffalo Springs/Samburu N.P., Kenya

There are two recognized subspecies:
  • Southern gerenuk, Litocranius walleri walleri 
  • Northern gerenuk, Litocranius walleri sclateri 

Video showing a southern Gerenuk

Gerenuks are well adapted for finding food in their arid habitats. Their long necks and legs in combination with the ability to stand on their hind legs allows them to obtain tree leaves that are out of reach for most other antelope species. This permits them to be selective in what they eat and to be efficient browsers of herbaceous plants.

Research has shown that they consume at least 80 different species of plants.

Two gerenuks feeding of a tree
Gerenuks feeding of a tree in the Samburu National Park - Kenya

Behavior & Reproduction
They prefer to live in small groups, some made up entirely of females and their offspring and some exclusively by males. Often, a solitary male will hold a specific territory where female groups may wander over a range of 1 - 2 square miles, roaming through several male territories.

Reproduction occurs throughout the year and the gestation period lasts about seven months. Females give birth to usually one young which has a weight of about 3 kg (6.6 lb) at birth.

Gerenuk females breed every one or two years, depending on the sex of their previous year's offspring. This is because male youngs depend on their mothers for longer than females do.

Gerenuk at Oregon Zoo

Conservation Status & Threats
The species is currently (2015) classified by the IUCN as Near Threatened (NT) and has already been eliminated from certain parts of its historical range in East Africa. Fortunately, it remains a widespread and relatively common antelope. Main threats, outside of the protected areas, include habitat loss and degradation, due to the expansion of agriculture, and hunting.

Which zoos have them?
The animal is exhibited in many zoos throughtout the world. Some zoos in the U.S. featuring this weird animal are:
  • Los Angeles Zoo
  • Saint Louis Zoological Park (United States)
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Oregon Zoo

Just do a google search to see if a zoo or park near you has these beautiful animals for exhibition!

Gerenuk at Tsavo East National Park in eastern Kenya

Other Interesting Facts about Gerenuks
- The gerenuk is believed to be independent of free water, obtaining all the moisture it needs through its diet.
- Offsprings were produced through artificial insemination for the first time in 2010 at White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida.
- Gerenuks use several vocalizations, including a buzzing sound when alarmed, a whistle when annoyed and a loud bleat when in extreme danger.

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