Bulletin 22 - March 1984: Potential Use of Gazelles for Game Ranching in the Arabian Peninsula

Potential Use of Gazelles for Game Ranching in the Arabian Peninsula

(This lecture was delivered at the Agro-Gulf Exhibition and Conference, Abu Dhabi, 1983.)

by Chris W. Furley *


Game ranching has been studied in some detail in Kenya and Zimbabwe as a means of making use of land areas unsuitable for domestic livestock. Species involved have been mainly African ungulates, Eland and Oryx for example. The suitability of gazelles for breeding on a commercial scale for meat production is discussed here, with reference to the Arabian Peninsula.

The ability of the gazelle to survive in a harsh arid environment has been noted by many travellers in North Africa and Arabia, but Taylor (1967, 1968a, 1968b, 1970, 1972a, 1972b) has been the first to study the physiological mechanisms which enable these animals to do so. It would appear that these adaptations to arid environments give them an enormous advantage over the domestic sheep and goats which frequent these areas.

There are three main species of gazelle indigenous to Arabia.

Arabian Dorcas Gazelle Gazella dorcas saudiya
Arabian Gazelle Gazella gazella arabica
Sand Gazelle Gazella subgutterosa marica

Other species occurring in the Middle East include the Persian, or Goitred, Gazelle (Gazella subgutterosa subutterosa), of Iran, and the Bennett's Gazelle (Gazella dorcas bennetti) of the Makran strip in Pakistan. The Mountain Gazelle (Gazella gazella gazella) is found in Palestine.

The populations of wild gazelles have decreased immeasurably in recent years in Arabia, and now only pockets of gazelles live in localised areas. Should a gazelle ranch be started, the animals would have to be brought to a central breeding station for producing a nucleus herd from which to select animals for ranching. Such animals could be supplied by local gazelle collections, of which there are many in Arabia.

Feeding Behavior

The feeding behaviour of gazelles in the wild has been well studied in East Africa (Hoppe et all 1977; Field and Blankenship, 1973; Spinage et al, 1980), but the spectrum of species has so far been limited to the Grant's Gazelle (Gazella granti), an arid-land inhabitant, and the Thomson's Gazelle (Gazella thomsoni), a grassland inhabitant. Hoppe et al (1977) noted both species of gazelles tend to select food of a higher nutritive value than domestic cattle, and that this is reflected in faster rumen fermentation rates in their proportionally smaller rumens. Dement (1982) noted that estimates based on reticulo-rumen contents indicate stomach size increases relative to body weight with increasing size.

Thus, the larger the ruminant, the larger proportion of body weight is accounted for by the stomach contents. The difference in rumen fill, as a percentage of body weight, between East African gazelles and domestic sheep and goats may be seen in Table 1. The conclusion drawn is that gazelles consume less plant material, having smaller rumens, but that the food they do choose is of a higher nutritive value. Thus they extract the maximum benefit from a much lower food intake. Taylor and Maloiy (1967) observed that both Grant's Gazelles and Thomson's Gazelles digest food material much better than Turkana goats, fat-tailed sheep, and Zebu cattle, all of which are kept in arid environments.

Water Requirements

The water requirements, of the Grant's and Thomson's Gazelles have been studied by Taylor (1968a, 1968b), who noted that much water is obtained by feeding on hydroscopic plants in the desert. The Grant's Gazelle appears to be particularly well adapted with regard to water regulation, and this is not a true desert species. Thus it may be reasonably expected that the gazelles indigenous to Arabia, which most definitely are desert species, will also be well adapted to the problems of water consumption and retention. Certainly there is a population of gazelles living on an island off the coast of the UAE (Abu Al-Abyad) which has no fresh water on it. Captive gazelles make full use of drinking water in hot weather, and in a ranch type situation it may be beneficial to provide such water to avoid stressing the animals unnecessarily.

Body Weight and Carcass Composition

The body and visceral weights of the gazelles listed in Table 3 indicate that the Sand Gazelle is the heaviest of the three Arabian species. The marked differences between the percentage body weight accounted for by the viscera in the Sand Gazelle are due t9 the wide variation in body condition seen in adult captive animals. Some adults are extremely fat, and being the same skeletal body size as others, the visceral contents therefore account for less of the total body weight. The ages of the four Arabian Dorcas Gazelles were known exactly, so the results show with some degree of accuracy the body and visceral weights of young adult males, the class of animals which would be slaughtered for meat production. It is interesting to note the Arabian Gazelle (an adult male) had the heaviest viscera in proportion to its body weight. this species is naturally very slim, and does not fatten as readily or as much as the Sand Gazelle. Further studies of the body weight and growth rates of these will be published elsewhere. Robinette and Archer (1971) examined the physiology of the Thomson's Gazelle, and estimated the dressing out percentage of males at approximately 61% , and of females at approximately 59%. Some similar studies would need to be done on the three Arabian species for reference purposes. It is probable that the dressing out percentage of the Arabian Dorcas and Arabian Gazelles would be similar to the Thomson's Gazelle, while those of the Sand Gazelle would be slightly higher.

Fat Deposition

Deposition of fat is heaviest in the Sand Gazelle, where it is located to some extent subcutaneously, but chiefly around the kidneys and in the omentum. Mediastinal fat has been seen. Perirenal fat may be extensive in a very fat animal, and the amount of fat in this position is a good indicator of the overall body condition and nutritional status of the animal. The Arabian Dorcas and Arabian Gazelles, however, do not appear to lay down as much fat and remain well-proportioned and relatively slim.


What little is known about the reproduction of gazelles in Arabia has been gleaned from those kept in captivity, and supplemented by earlier observations by individuals travelling through the country. The Arabian Dorcas Gazelle herd at Al Ain Zoo breeds throughout the year with two well-defined peaks in spring and autumn. Both calving seasons are very spread out and merge into one another.

The Arabian Gazelle in captivity breeds throughout the year without any particular season predominating, though on the Batinah coast of Oman Lt. Col. Seton-Browne noted that they may calve twice a year, once in January and once in August (Harrison 1968). Both the Arabian Dorcas and Arabian Gazelles produce one calf at a time only.

The Sand Gazelle, however, may produce twins. Those in the centre of Arabia are reputed to calve about March and April. Breeding occurs throughout the year in a captive herd in Al Ain, but this herd has not been studied in detail.

Sexual maturity in gazelles is reached during the first year of life. Captive Arabian Dorcas males are consistently ejected from the breeding herd by the dominant male at the age of 5 months and 10 days to 5 months and 19 days, presumably for exhibiting early signs of maturity. puberty in females of this species has not been calculated yet. Further results of breeding studies will be published elsewhere.

Disease Threat

Some studies of viral diseases affecting gazelles have been performed in East Africa and elsewhere. Rinderpest has been reported (Plowright 1963), Bluetongue (Barzilai et aI, 1971, Hoff and Trainer 1978), Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (Rweyemamu 1974, Rampton and Jesset 1976), Malignant Catarrhal Fever (Griner 1983), Foot and Mouth Disease (Hedger 1976), Mucosal Disease (Brass 1966), and Bovine Herpesvirus-2 (Plowright 1981). It would appear that East African gazelles are largely resistant to Rinderpest and Foot and Mouth Disease, but the gazelle of Arabia may be completely susceptible.

Bacterial diseases encountered are no different from those of other ungulates. Tuberculosis (Griner 1983), Necrobacillosis (Basson et al 1971, Dolensek 1978), Listeriosis (Stoskopf 1980), and Pasteurella pseudotuberculosis (Wetzler 1981) have all been recorded. The present author has seen Brucella mellitensis, Pasteurella multocide, Yersinia enterocolitica, Actinomyces bovis and Mycoplasma pleuropneumoniae in captive gazelles in the U.A.E. The conditions which might cause the greatest problems in a ranch establishment would be Brucellosis, Mycoplasmosis and Pasteurellosis. Vaccines are available for domestic animals against these diseases.

Blood parasites have been recorded in gazelles, including Theileria (Pipano 1978, Brocklesby and Vidler 1966), Babesia (Pipano 1978), Nannomonas spp. (Baker 1968), and Anaplasma marginale (Lohr and Meyer 1973). Trypanosoma brucii has been recorded in East African gazelles. (Bertram 1971). There is growing evidence that Epyrythrozoan spp. are present in ungulates in the U.A.E., without fatal effects. There is a wide variety of hard and soft ticks in Arabia, so the reservoir for tick-borne diseases is present. The potential threat of tick-borne parasites to gazelles on a ranch would depend on the degree of challenge from the vectors and the presence of itinerant Bedouin livestock carrying the diseases. Little work has been performed on the immunity of gazelles to blood parasites.

Tapeworm cysts have been encountered in captive gazelles in the U.A.E. in Sand Gazelles and Arabian Dorcas Gazelles. The cysts may be the larval stage of Echinococcus granulosus or Joyeuxiella echinorhyncoides, both of which are carried by the Arabian Red Fox (Furley 1983). The Fox is the most numerous carnivore in this area, and has been known to kill new-born gazelles.

Numerous nematodes have been recorded from gazelles, some of which are more frequently found in domestic hosts. Karmanova (1953) performed an exhaustive study on the nematodes of the Goitred Gazelle (Gazella subgutterosa subgutterosa) in Kazakhstan (Soviet Union), and found a wide variety of domestic animal parasites. The only nematode consistently found in gazelles in the U.A.E. is Trichuris gazellae, a whip worm. It is not significant pathologically.


The possibility of using gazelles for meat production in Arabia has distinct viability, providing the project is correctly managed. The choice of species may be determined rather by those gazelles available from which to take a nucleus herd than those best suited to the environment. However, it would appear the Sand Gazelle has the advantage of producing twins as well as being a heavier animal. It must be said that further studies are essential before such an undertaking could be begun, and it would be to the benefit of Arabia as a whole to start such a research establishment as soon as possible. There remains a considerable amount of work to be done with regard to the feeding behaviour of these species in the wild, as well as breeding and determination of growth rates under ranch conditions.

Table 1 from Hoppe et al 1977

Species Body Weight
Rumeno-reticular contents as
percentage of body weight (kg)
Sheep 25 +/- 4 17.9 +/- 1.7
Goat 24 +/- 4 18.7 +/- 4.1
Grant's Gazelle 49 +/- 8 8.0 +/- 2.9
Thomson's Gazelle 18 +/- 2 12.1 +/- 3.4

Table 2

Species Sex Body Weight
Rumeno-reticular contents as
percentage of body weight (kg)
Sand Gazelle M 21.0 6.3
Sand Gazelle F 10.25 8.4
Arabian Gazelle F 9.0 6.7

Table 3

Species Age Sex Body Weight
Weights of Viscera
Percentage of body
weight accounted for
by Viscera
Sand Gazelle M Full adult 21.0 3.33 15.85
Sand Gazelle F 1.5 years 18.0 2.525 14.02
Sand Gazelle F 1.5 years 10.25 2.67 26.04
Arabian Gazelle M 2.5 years 12.0 4.0 33.37
Arabian Dorcas M 9 months 12.5 3.48 27.84
Arabian Dorcas M 10 months 13.0 3.57 27.5
Arabian Dorcas M 12 months 13.0 3.325 25.5
Arabian Dorcas M 6-7 years 16.0 3.5 21.87


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* Chris W. Furley, BVM&S, MRCVS
International Zoo Veterinary Group
Al Ain Zoo and Aquarium
P.O. Box 1204, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

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