In the 1890's Joseph Thomson, a Scottish explorer, traveled across Africa and named the dainty gazelle he found after himself. The geologist and explorer died at the young age of 37 from natural causes, but he was known to be careful in his exploration and dealing with native peoples, causing no known deaths and losing no men to violence in his explorations. The motto often attributed to him is "He who goes gently, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far." Of the nineteen species of gazelle, which is a type of antelope, Thomson's are the most common and the most well known.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Artiodactyla
Family - Bovidae
Subfamily - Antilopinae
Genus – Eudorcas
Species – E. thomsonii
Common Names – Thompson's Gazelle, Tommie
Found in open plains and grasslands, these medium sized antelope are a staple for many Serengeti predators. They are dark cinnamon or tan with a white underside and black markings. They stand 2.5-3 feet and weigh between 35-55 pounds. Thomson's gazelles are herbivores and they get most of their moisture from the grasses and brush they consume. Both males and females have horns, but the male's are much more prominent with noticeable ridging. Although the males do not herd females, they are territorial and will fight to defend their position. In the wild, their lifespan is 10-13 years and about 15 years in captivity.
Males generally live separately from the females but will join their herd for breeding purposes. Females give birth to a single fawn - sometimes twice in a single year - often following or during the rainy season after a 5-6 month gestation period. Like most antelope and deer young, the fawns hide motionless in the tall grass and are only visited by their mothers a few times a day for feeding. After three weeks, the fawn is old enough to join the main herd. Even with the camouflage and careful avoidance by the mother, about half of fawns do not reach adulthood. The first few weeks, when the fawn does not have the speed or stamina to outrun predators, are the most vulnerable. In addition to the predators who feed on adults, the young are also taken by eagles, pythons, jackals, and baboons. Females will try to defend their young against some predators, but they will back down and abandon their young against larger animals such as leopards.
Tommies can be found by the thousands in long migrations alongside zebras and wildebeests. Preferring open grasslands, they can be at risk from their main natural predators such as cheetahs and wild dogs. To counter this vulnerability, they have acute senses of hearing, smell, and sight. They are also the fastest and nimblest of all antelope, reaching speeds from 40-60 and performing acrobatic leaps called 'pronking'. The leaps have two possible purposes, either to confuse their predators and make them more difficult targets or to discourage the predator by showing how fit and strong the gazelle is.
Although Thomson's gazelles are no longer classified in the genus gazella, their ancestry is traced alongside that genus. Fossils in Africa and Eurasia from the Plio-Pleistocene period, which dates back five million years. Gazelles disappeared from Europe, but they are still found in Africa and parts of the Middle East. The only modern extinctions of gazelle are believed to have been caused by human hunting.
Although Thompson's gazelles are the most plentiful of all gazelles and their numbers have not had a steep decline since the 1990's, they are listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Their main threat comes from habitat loss and degradation.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals by Richard D. Estes
The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates by Richard D. Estes and Daniel Otte
A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania (Princeton Field Guides) by Charles Foley and Lara Foley
Serengeti: Dynamics of an Ecosystem by A. R. E. Sinclair and M. Norton-Griffiths