The Gerenuk like a giraffe is a long-necked herbivore. While not closely related to giraffes, the Gerenuk has evolved to grow long necks to reach foliage that many other herbivores cant. They are a very unique antelope species from Africa. In this week’s podcast we talk about this species and all its interesting adaptations to survive in the Horn of Africa. The Gerenuk is also sliding towards extinction and we discuss what some conservation organizations are doing to help them. Yet, we do also bring some feel good conservation stories from Africa and just how you may participate as “remote rangers.”
Gerenuk are quite simply a species of antelope. They belong to the Order Artiodactyla, also called the “even-toed ungulates.” These include over 270 species of bovids, antelopes, deer and many others. Antelope belong to the Family Bovidae, which include the bison, buffalo, cattle, sheep, goats, and muskox. There are about 91 species of antelope and the Gerenuk species name is Litocranius walleri. The closest relatives to Gerenuk are not giraffe, but another longer neck antelope, the Dama Gazelle. Giraffe are there own separate family and not closely related to antelope.
Bovids first appear in the geological record roughly 23 million years ago in Africa and Europe. The earliest bovid species closely resembled cattle and eland. It wasn’t until much later that we see diversity in this family with the appearance of early antelope, sheep, goats and the like. While there is not much evidence of antelope evolution, scientists believe they began to radiate out across Africa around 15 million years ago. They base this on evidence that Africa was once dominated by forests. Yet, with the introduction of many antelope species, Africa became more dominated by savannah. It is an interesting theory and further research will either support or contradict this hypothesis.
The most striking feature of the Gerenuk is its long neck making it unique in the animal kingdom. Just like other mammals and the giraffe, the neck vertebrate of the Gerenuk only numbers seven. Similarly to the giraffe, the vertebrate get larger and lengthen during gestation and after birth. The Gerenuk neck allows them to reach forage as high as 8 feet off the ground. This gives the Gerenuk an advantage in reaching plants that other herbivores cant.
Gerenuk live an average of 8 to 10 years in the wild, and 13 years under human care. While not the fastest antelope, they can reach speeds of 25 MPH (56 KPH). Gerenuk are browsers and stomach contents have revealed browse from over 80 different plant species. Interestingly, the Gerenuk does not drink water, but rather gets all their moisture from their browse.
Gerenuk like other smaller herbivores in Africa are hunted by lions, leopards, hyena, cheetah, African painted dogs, serval and even honey badgers.
Gerenuk are classified as Near Threatened with around 95,000 adults left. Habitat loss and population fragmentation are their largest threats. Due to these threats populations have decreased by 25% over the last 14 years.
As mentioned in this week’s podcast, Africam and others are piloting a remote ranger project. You can visit www.wildlife-watch.com to learn more.