For Release: Nov. 17, 2008
Enica R. Thompson (202) 633-3083
Sarah Taylor (202) 633-3081
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is proud to announce the birth of a female dama gazelle calf Sunday, Nov. 2, between 6:45 a.m. and 8 a.m., to 2-year-old female Adara and an unnamed 1-year-old male. The calf weighed 4.6 kilograms (10 pounds) at birth. A total of four dama gazelles reside at the Zoo and five at the Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va.
“This is an exciting time here at the Zoo—Adara and her baby are bonding and doing well,” said Tony Barthel, curator for the animals at Cheetah Station. “Twenty-four hours after birth, the calf was given a neonate exam that confirmed the calf’s sex. The exam also confirmed signs of nursing and the calf has since been observed nursing numerous times. The calf is healthy, very active and thriving in her new environment. We hope to have her on exhibit in the weeks to come.”
“On Friday, Nov. 14, one of our other females delivered a stillborn calf,” added Barthel. “This was extremely disappointing; however, we’re watching the mother closely while she’s recovering.”
This birth is very significant for the dama gazelle population. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species lists the dama gazelle as critically endangered. The Species Survival Plan currently manages 120 dama gazelles in the United States. It is estimated that fewer than 500 remain in the wild and are under constant threat due to hunting and poaching.
The Zoo plays an integral role in understanding their fundamental reproductive biology and is in the process of developing optimum techniques for sperm cryopreservation. The overall goal is to use this information to develop assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination to promote genetic management of this species.
Dama gazelles are Saharan antelopes and are the focus of a new conservation project for Zoo scientists who will be working to save it from extinction by increasing the population of dama gazelles in captivity, expanding research efforts at the Zoo and in the wild and educating governments, aid agencies and citizens about the importance of wildlife conservation. The Zoo, in collaboration with the Sahara Conservation Fund and the United Nations Secretariat for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also is working to establish an 80,000-square-kilometer protected area—roughly twice the size of West Virginia—in Niger where scientists can conserve endangered Saharan animals.
At the Zoo, the gazelles currently share their exhibit with scimitar-horned oryx—a Saharan antelope that is currently extinct in the wild. Before Saharan antelope populations were decimated by hunting, dama gazelles and scimitar-horned oryx would have been seen in large herds, sharing the same habitat. Zoo scientists are currently working in collaboration with international colleagues to reintroduce scimitar-horned oryx back into wild with the hope that their success with that species will serve as a model for a plan to restore dama gazelles to the wild.
Very little is known about the biology of dama gazelles, and while Zoo scientists ultimately hope to reintroduce this species back to its native habitat, they have much to learn about its veterinary care, reproduction, behavior and genetics before they can achieve that goal.
Animal care staff and scientists will work together to gather basic biological data about the gazelles, including studying hormones in feces to evaluate reproduction and stress—two key factors in ensuring the health, well being and reproductive fitness of zoo animals. Staff will continue to study the natural breeding of the three adult dama gazelles currently on exhibit at the Zoo to better understand the reproductive needs of these animals in captivity.
While Zoo scientists and animal care staff will be focusing on a method for successful natural breeding, the Zoo’s world renowned-reproductive science team—the same team that pioneered artificial insemination for endangered species as black-footed ferrets and giant pandas—also will develop those breeding techniques for dama gazelles. Eventually, scientists hope that once they solve the puzzle of how to successfully artificially inseminate dama gazelles in captivity, the solution can be used for the genetic management of this species and rapidly increase their numbers for future reintroduction efforts.
In November 2007, a survey conducted by Zoo scientists and their collaborators found no sign of the species in an area that 25 years ago was home to tens of thousands dama gazelles. These gazelles serve an important role in their desert habitat. They are effective seed dispersers, with nurseries of young acacia trees growing where they have spread their dung in shady areas. Dama gazelles and other arid-land antelope can survive for months and even years without drinking water, obtaining sufficient moisture from the plants they eat in their sparsely vegetated habitats.
For more information about the Zoo’s dama gazelles, visit www.nationalzoo.si.edu.