In the fall and winter, goitered gazelles consolidate into large herds. - photo: Martin Grimm/ stock.adobe.com
Species profile: Goitered gazelle
Hope for an endangered species
The goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) owes its name to the enlargements on the larynxes of the males, which amplify the volume of their rutting calls. The animals have a hide that ranges from light brown to sand-colored, and a light underside. They grow to a size of approximately 50 to 65 centimetres and a body weight of 30 to 40 kilogrammes. The males display lyre-shaped horns which bend backwards, while the females are hornless. With a maximum speed of 70 kilometres per hour, the goitered gazelle is one of the fastest mammals in the world.
Goitered gazelles prefer steppes and semi-deserts with flat to mountainous terrain. Their distribution area extends from the Caucasus through Iran, southern Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula , to the Gobi Desert and northern China. Within its genus (Gazella) this species therefore achieves the distinction of having spread the furthest to the north. While a few populations in protected areas are classified as stable, trends in the rest of their distribution area imply a significant dwindling of the species. Until around 2007, the goitered gazelle was also present in Kyrgyzstan, but has since become locally extinct in the wild.
In its northern homelands, the goitered gazelle is dependent on the seasons and has adapted its way of life accordingly. Its herd behavior also shifts with the changing of the seasons: While goitered gazelles are primarily solitary or on the move in small groups during the spring and summer, in fall and winter they consolidate into large herds of up to many hundreds of animals. These herds are at their largest between January and February, before the goitered gazelles then disperse out of the groups again around the end of March.
As a rule, goitered gazelles reach sexual maturity around 18 to 19 months of age. The rutting season of the gazelles varies by region and can extend from November to January. Climate conditions also influence their breeding behavior: when an especially dry spring leads to scarce vegetation, the mating season can shift. Before the rut, the males surround themselves with a small group of two to five females, which they defend from rivals.
After five to six months of gestation, the females bear one to two young. The first two weeks of the juvenile goitered gazelles' lives are not spent at the sides of their mothers, but rather lying hidden in the grass or brush. The mother will visit multiple times a day in order to nurse them. Subsequently, the young animals remain with their mothers for another six months, before they become independent.
Above all, poaching and the destruction of its habitat - through the expansion of industry, agriculture and livestock - put pressure on this species. But border fences and other man-made barriers also threaten the continued existence of the goitered gazelle. Such obstructions in nature interrupt their migration corridors and can become deadly traps for the animals. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates the numbers of the goitered gazelle at less than 49,000 adult individuals, trending downward. The species is therefore classified as vulnerable.
Project to reintroduce the goitered gazelle
To combat the further decline of the species, plans have been made to reintroduce the goitered gazelle to Kyrgyzstan. In 2021, the Argali Foundation and the Ilbirs Foundation started a project for the reintroduction of the species. At its start, 15 juvenile goitered gazelles were transported from a breeding station in Uzbekistan to the Kyrgyz reintroduction facility near Issyk-Kul Lake.
In 2022, NABU sponsored the expansion of the goitered gazelle enclosure, which lies near the last known habitat area of the gazelle species in Kyrgyzstan, from 0.25 hectares to an area of around 12 hectares. Additional juvenile goitered gazelles were also transported to the reintroduction enclosure, in order to establish a stable and genetically diverse population there.
The project is accompanied by environmental education measures to combat poaching and illegal trade. The first goitered gazelles are anticipated to be released into the wild in 2026, if the animals in the enclosure have reproduced to a sufficient extent by that point.
Drone image of the goitered gazelle reintroduction enclosure near Issyk-Kul Lake in northeastern Kyrgyzstan - photo: NABU/ Ivan Turkovskii
A goitered gazelle drinks from a water bowl. - photo: NABU/ Ivan Turkovskii
Multiple goitered gazelles in the reintroduction enclosure in Kyrgyzstan. - photo: NABU/ Ivan Turkovskii
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