The Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri) is a species of antelope related to the Gazelle. The only differences between the gerenuk and the gazelle is that gerenuks have a more solid skull and an elongated neck which is the gerenuks most outstanding characteristic. The name ‘Gerenuk’ means ‘Giraffe Necked’ in the Somali language. The gerenuk is also known as ‘Wallers Gazelle’.
Gerenuks have small heads in comparison to their body size, however, their eyes and ears are quite large. Only male gerenuks have horns which are stout and heavily ringed and a more muscular neck than female gerenuks. Gerenuks measure around 150 centimetres in length. Male Gerenuks are slightly taller than females standing from 89 – 105 centimetres and females at 80 – 100 centimetres. Males weigh around 100 pounds and females are somewhat lighter at 68 pounds. A gerenuks coat has brown upperparts with lighter coloured sides and underparts. Gerenuks have a short tail that has a black tuft of hair on the end.
Like many other gazelles, gerenuks have pre-orbital glands in front of the eyes that emit a tar-like, scent-bearing substance they deposit on twigs and bushes to mark their territory. They also have scent glands on their knees that are covered by tufts of hair and between their split hooves.
Gerenuks preferred habitats are woody vegetation, desert and open scrublands.
Gerenuks are adaptable eaters. They are herbivores and use their long necks to reach up for high growing plants, sometimes as high as 6 – 8 feet. They are able to stand on their hind legs to feed, using their forelegs to pull down branches of trees. This is quite different from other antelopes who tend to be more ground eaters.
A gerenuks diet consists of leaves and shoots from prickly bushes and trees and also includes flowers, fruits and buds. Gerenuks do not need grass or water as they obtain their moisture from the plants they eat. This enable gerenuks to survive in dry deserts and scrublands.
Gerenuks live in small groups, some made up of females and their young and other exclusively males. Solitary males tend to hold specific territories whereas female groups may wander over a range of 1 – 2 square miles, roaming through several male territories.
Because gerenuks are adaptable eaters, they can mate any time of the year and have no specific breeding season. Mating rituals involve the male approaching the female and repeatedly tapping her belly or flanks with his front leg. The male may also rub her with his pre orbital glands to deposit his scent before mating. Females reach sexual maturity at one year and males reach sexual maturity at 1.5 years. The gestation period is around 7 months after which a single calf is born.
When the female is ready to give birth, she will leave the rest of the herd to hide in an isolated area. Calves weigh around 6.5 pounds at birth. The female licks her fawn clean and then she eats the afterbirth. During the first few weeks of the calfs life, it will remain hidden in the grass and be visited 2 – 3 times a day by its mother to suckle her milk. After each visit, the mother will clean the fawn and eat the calfs waste in order to dispose of any scent that may lead predators to it.
Females bleat very softly when communicating with their young. The life span of the gerenuk is around 8 years in the wild and 13 year in captivity.
Gerenuk Conservation Status
Gerenuks are classed as ‘Conservation Dependent’ by the IUCN. Habitat loss and fragmentation by humans are the biggest threats to gerenuk populations.