There are ninety-one species of antelope currently in existence in the world and twenty-five are threatened with extinction. Five of the twenty-five antelope species classified as threatened have been assigned the status of critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning it is highly likely that the species will become extinct in the wild. With many of these antelopes on the brink of extinction, zoos may present us with the only opportunity to observe these amazing animals. The Oakland Zoo is one of only nineteen AZA accredited zoos to house an endangered dama gazelle.
The tallest and largest of the gazelle species, damas are a desert gazelle that live a nomadic lifestyle, moving with the rains throughout the Sahelo-Saharan region. Once widespread across the sub-desert belt of Northern Africa, and numbering over 10,000 in the 1960s, the current wild population of dama gazelles is less than 500 individuals split into tiny, isolated herds across Mali, Niger, Chad, and southern Algeria.
The next time you visit the Oakland Zoo, stop by the African Veldt exhibit and see if you can spot the dama gazelle amongst the common eland and reticulated giraffes. Residing in the multi-species savannah, the gazelle often goes unnoticed, as he is so much smaller than his exhibit companions. Since damas are a species that moves over large distances in the wild, keepers work hard to stimulate this animal to walk and cover as much ground as possible in the captive environment through the creative use of enrichment. The gazelle spends the day foraging for small food items, such as roses and spinach leaves, that keepers have scattered and hidden around rocks and stick piles. You may also see him interacting with different puzzle feeders: boxes, bags, and balls that he has to shake or roll to release food. At the Oakland Zoo, we are proud to be one of such a small number of zoos to house this exceptional species.
For more information on the dama gazelle conservation efforts, visit the Sahara Conservation Fund’s website at www.saharaconservation.org.
The Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) is an organization at the forefront of plant and animal conservation efforts, whose mission is to preserve the wildlife of the Sahara and Sahelian grasslands. The SCF works with local people and governments to reduce illegal hunting practices and reduce habitat destruction within the dama gazelle’s range. Most recently, the SCF has also begun intensive work toward reintroducing zoo-born damas into the wild.