Characteristics of a Gazelle

By Kathryn Hatashita-Lee

The gazelle includes 19 medium-sized antelope species that belong to the genus Gazella. This swift animal can live in parts of east Africa and Asia as distant as Mongolia. They have adapted to various terrain including grasslands, bushy savannas, desert plateaus and mountainous landscapes. The alert gazelle with its long, undulating horns and slender tan body can run for a sustained amount of time to flee predators.

Physical Characteristics

Gazelles feature proportionally long necks and legs and a short tail. The slim gazelle has a tan coat with white underparts and a white rump. These antelopes feature a variety of markings and stripes. For example, Thomson’s gazelle (Gazella thomsonii) sports a graceful black strip along the sides of its svelte body. The long horns angled from the top of the head often look like pairs of gentle S-curves with tapering, stacked rings. Female horns are shorter and slimmer than their male counterparts in their population. Some female gazelles, such as the Tibetan gazelle, or Goa, have no horns. The alert gazelle possesses keen sight, hearing and smell to help find food and evade predators. The mountain gazelle can maintain speeds of 80 mph over several hundred yards.


Distribution of this antelope includes east Africa and southwest and central Asia. Gazelles can inhabit savannas, light forest regions, grasslands, deserts, mountains and hilly habitats. They can adapt to harsh desert conditions with the ability to live without water for long periods. Gazelles tend to forage in open spaces and plains where they must swiftly flee predators such as cheetahs.

Diet and Sources

Gazelles are herbivores that browse or graze. Their keen sense of smell helps them find food, such as easily digestible herbs, grasses and shrubs that vary according to the habitat. For example, the small Thomson’s gazelle feed on short grasses that comprise up to 90 percent of their diet in the dry season, according to the African Wildlife Federation. In another example, the mountain gazelle (Gazella gazelle) tends to forage at night or in the early morning. The mountain gazelle can consume dew and water-retaining succulent plants as their water source in dry conditions. Female gazelles nurse their immature offspring in the plains grasses to avoid detection by predators.

Social Groups and Behavior

Gazelles live in herds that can range from a small group of three to eight, to thousands that gather in the rainy season. These temporary herds can include territorial males, immature bachelor males and mothers with their young female offspring. Immature bachelor males tend to fight more and use their horns more than adult males. Dominant males can establish territories with a ritualized display posture and marking of their boundaries. Congregations of Thomson’s gazelle can include other animals such as Grant’s gazelle, zebra, cattle and wildebeest. The gazelle’s characteristic “stotting” or “pronking” features a bounding leap before fleeing its enemies.