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gazelle is any of many antelope species in the genus Gazella or formerly considered to belong to it. Six species are included in two genera, Eudorcas and Nanger, which were formerly considered subgenera. The genus Procapra has also been considered a subgenus of Gazella, and its members are also referred to as gazelles, though they are not dealt with in this article.

Gazelles are known as swift animals. Some are able to run at bursts as high as 100 km/h (60 mph) or run at a sustained speed of 50 km/h (30 mph). Gazelles are found mostly in the deserts, grasslands, and savannas of Africa; but they are also found in southwest and central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. They tend to live in herds, and eat less coarse, easily digestible plants and leaves.

Gazelles are rather small antelopes, most standing 60–110 cm (2–3.5 ft) high at the shoulder, and are generally fawn-coloured.

The gazelle genera are GazellaEducratria, and Nanger. The taxonomy of these genera is a confused one, and the classification of species and subspecies has been an unsettled issue. Currently, the genus Gazella is widely considered to contain about 13 species. Four further species are extinct: the red gazelle, the Arabian gazelle, the Queen of Sheba's gazelle, and the Saudi gazelle. Most surviving gazelle species are considered threatened to varying degrees. Closely related to the true gazelles are the Tibetan and Mongolian gazelles (species of the genus Procapra), the blackbuck of Asia, and the African springbok.

One widely familiar gazelle is the African species Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsoni), which is around 60 to 80 cm (24 to 31 in) in height at the shoulder and is coloured brown and white with a distinguishing black stripe. The males have long, often curved, horns. Like many other prey species, Tommies and springboks (as they are familiarly called) exhibit a distinctive behaviour of stotting (running and jumping high before fleeing) when they are threatened by predators, such as cheetahs.

Etymology and name

Gazelle is derived from the Arabic name غزال ġazāl. The first Romance language to adopt it was Middle French, and the word entered the English language around 1600 from French. The Arab people traditionally hunted the gazelle. Appreciated for its grace, it is a symbol most commonly associated in Arabic literature with female beauty.

One of the traditional themes of Arabic love poetry involves comparing the gazelle with the beloved, and linguists theorize ghazal, the word for love poetry in Arabic, is related to the word for gazelle. It is related that the Caliph Abd al-Malik (646–705) freed a gazelle that he had captured because of her resemblance to his beloved:

O likeness of Layla, never fear! For I am your friend, today, O wild deer! Then I say, after freeing her from her fetters: You are free for the sake of Layla, for ever!

Species

The gazelles are divided into three genera and numerous species.

Extinct

Fossils of genus Gazella are found in Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits of Eurasia and Africa. The tiny Gazella borbonica is one of the earliest European gazelles, characterised by its small size and short legs. Gazelles disappeared from Europe at the start of Ice Age, but they survived in Africa and Middle East. Three species became extinct in recent times due to human causes.

Recent extinctions

Prehistoric extinctions

  • Genus Gazella
    • Gazella borbonica - European gazelle
    • Gazella thomasi - Thomas's gazelle
    • Gazella harmonae - Pliocene of Ethiopia, unusual spiral horns[9]
    • Gazella praethomsoni
    • Gazella negevensis
    • Gazella triquetrucornis
    • Gazella negevensis
    • Gazella capricornis
  • Subgenus Vetagazella
  • Subgenus Gazella
    • Gazella janenschi
  • Subgenus Trachelocele
    • Gazella atlantica
    • Gazella tingitana
  • Subgenus Deprezia
    • Gazella psolea
  • Genus Nanger
    • Nanger vanhoepeni
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