Scientific Name: Gazella spekei
The dark stripes on the Speke’s gazelle’s face are thought to function like the black paint baseball players use under their eyes—to reduce glare from the sun.
This small, delicate antelope was named after the British explorer John Hanning Speke. His claim to fame was not only discovering that the source of the Nile was Lake Victoria in 1858, but also naming a variety of animals including Speke’s weaver bird, Speke’s gundi, a rodent, and of course the Speke’s gazelle.
STATUS: The Speke’s gazelle is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The major obstacles for this species’ survival are competition with domestic livestock for limited grazing, continuous hunting pressure, and the effects of warfare in the region. Field research has been limited for decades due to the region’s instability. Westerners believed that the species was virtually extinct by the 1980s. Although that proved to be false, the St. Louis Zoo had the only breeding population of Speke’s gazelle in North America. By 1983, other zoos, including the Los Angeles Zoo, joined the Species Survival Plan (SSP) to help propagate the species.
HABITAT: Speke’s gazelle are found in open, semi-desert plateaus of Somalia and parts of Ethiopia.
DIET: These browsers feed in the early morning. In their very arid habitat, dew rarely accumulates, and predawn feeding gives these animals the highest moisture content from the foliage they consume.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Small and fragile looking, Speke’s gazelle are fawn-colored with a distinct black flank, and a paler band above it. Like many creatures that live in the desert, the gazelle’s belly is white, helping to deflect rising heat from the desert sand. Its face is light beige with dark stripes near the eyes and down the front of the muzzle, thought to function like the blackened eyes of baseball players to reduce glare from the sun.
Speke’s gazelles have been seen in the wild in small groups of five to as many as 20 animals. There is sparse documentation in the field, but generally, gazelle males are territorial, and females or female groups are detained by the males in their mating territories.
Come Blow Your Horn
The most distinctive trait of these shy creatures is their ability to inflate the skin on top of their noses to the size of a baseball, amplifying the already loud snorts they use to alert one another to danger. Another benefit is that blood is cooled in the vessels lining the nasal passages as water evaporates from inside the nose. The cooled blood surrounds the artery that carries blood to the brain, enabling these seemingly delicate creatures to live in their harsh environment.