The Dama Gazelles: Last Members of a Critically Endangered Species

The Dama Gazelles: Last Members of a Critically Endangered Species

The Dama Gazelles: Last Members of a Critically Endangered Species

The Dama Gazelles: Last Members of a Critically Endangered Species


Dama gazelles, the largest of the gazelles, were once a common sight in Northern Africa, with a habitat ranging from the Atlantic Ocean east almost to the Nile River. Today, these animals are critically endangered as their populations have dropped precipitously due to the effects of expanding agrarian practices, overhunting, violent human conflict, and climate change on their native habitats.

Though they are perilously close to extinction in the wild, Texas ranches maintain over a thousand dama gazelles--more than the number currently in zoos and in the wild combined. The habitat on some of these ranches resembles their natural range along the Sahara Desert of Northern Africa, making them suitable living spaces for damas.

In The Dama Gazelles, Elizabeth Cary Mungall brings together experts from around the world and offers a comprehensive reference book on these animals, including information on natural history and taxonomy; physical and behavioral traits; dama gazelles held in zoos and collections, parks and preserves, and on Texas ranches; and efforts to reintroduce populations into the wild. There is also a rare, firsthand account from Frans M. van den Brink, an animal dealer from the Netherlands, who in the 1960s successfully captured 35 dama gazelles in Northern Africa and transported them to zoos in the United States and Europe, losing only two animals in the harrowing process. The remaining 33 eastern dama gazelles, plus four of the western dama gazelles gathered before their extinction in the wild, were the "founders" of all the dama gazelles in captivity today.

Detailed appendixes and a glossary round out the volume with additional information to help researchers, zookeepers, and landowners better understand and conserve dama gazelles.


The impact of humans on the environment is evident in the case of dama gazelles. Although the gazelles were once commonly found in their natural African habitat, wild numbers have dwindled to dangerously low levels. the majority of the worlds dama gazelles now live on Texas ranches, with additional individuals in zoos and preserves around the world. As Elizabeth Cary Mungall observes in this volume, the situation for the dama gazelle is “precarious, but not hopeless.” This volume offers a critical wealth of information meant to help rebuild the species.

Authoritative and expansive in scope, this multidisciplinary approach will be eminently valuable to conservation organizations, ranchers, and regulators. Given the important role Texas landowners play in the story of the dama gazelle’s chances for survival, I especially appreciate the range of the contributors’ expertise as well as the volume’s acknowledgment of the achievements and additions to science by private facilities, not just by traditional zoos. Also important is the book’s explanation of the new Source Population Alliance. Its potential to coordinate joint conservation efforts among ranches, zoos, and range states is an important development designed to help the species survive. the encyclopedic variety of topics in this book lends itself to the interests of an equally varied population of readers.

The species history, including the history of captive populations in zoos and similar institutions, reads like the “genealogy” of a species—facts that are usually deeply buried in hard-to-find documents or stored only in the memories of people who were there. the chapter by Frans van den Brink, who first brought individuals of this species out of Africa—individuals from the eastern part of their range—provides an enlightening view in a first-person account. I applaud its inclusion in the book. Coupled with the rescue details of how Professor José Antonio Valverde acted on his realization that this species was about to go extinct in the western part of its range, this demonstrates how critical the actions of a few committed people can be to species survival.

As for the multitude of information in both text and pictures, the most valuable to me is the precise morphological details of coat color and change, manifestations of sexual dimorphism, and variation in horn shape of different ages and sexes. Such information cannot be found in field guides dealing . . .

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