Gazelle gazelle, Hatay Mountain Gazelle. Class, Mammalia. Order, Artiodactyla. Family, Bovidae. Species, Gazella gazella. Gazella means gazelle. It is derived from the Arabic “gazal”. Hatay Mountain Gazelles are approximately 60 cm tall and 1 meter long. The females weight around 25 kg, and the males weight around 30 kg. The way they look is so tender, and they have big bright eyes. It is as if their eyes are kohl-lined. They are agile animals. They run very fast. Their colors are in harmony with the surrounding nature. Their bellies are white, and their backs are in shades of brown.
Their have arch-shaped horns. Their horns continue to grow as long as they live. They can live 8-10 years in their natural habitat. There are two known gazelle populations in Turkey. One of them is Gazelle subgutturosa. They live in Ceylanpinar district in Sanliurfa province of Turkey. Gazelle subgutturosa are conserved and breed in the Ceylanpinar State Nursery. They are around one thousand in number. The state is also working to preserve and breed them again in their natural habitats, where they used to live.
Their most distinguishing feature different from Hatay Mountain. Gazelles is that they are lighter in weight. The males have longer horns, and the females have no horns. Their fur is of a lighter color. The second gazelle specie is Gazella gazella, the Hatay Mountain Gazelle, which is the subject of this post. In addition to Turkey, this gazelle specie is also found naturally in Israel, Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. This shows that they once lived in an area from Turkey to Israel without interruption. It is thought that they are extinct in Syria today. They were released in some regions in Jordan and Iran, where they are preserved and bred. Note that Hatay is a province in southern Turkey, on the eastern Mediterranean coast.
The Incirli village in the Kirikhan borough of the Hatay city. People discovered gazelles in this area, and began to observe and do genetic researches on them. The scientists were surprised by the findings. They compared them to the gazelles in Ceylanpinar. They concluded that the Hatay Gazelles were a different specie. They named these newly discovered gazelles: Gazella gazella Hatay Mountain Gazelle. This gazelle specie was discovered incidentally. The first person who documented them is a nature-lover academician.
“I got closer to them, like 70-80 meters, with my camera, and of corse I was excited. The male gazelle stepped forward, like protecting his herd. I kept on taking pictures. And then the females moved away a little, and I thought it was enough taking pictures. I guess it took like 10-15 minutes to take their first pictures.”
In fact, it was already known for years that gazelles were living in this region, but it wasn’t known that they were a different specie. Their habitat is confined to a tight area in Turkey. Gazelles’ habitat is near the Syrian border. They live in the Incirli and Sucu villages in the Kirikhan borough of Hatay city. It is an area of nearly 4.5 kilometers wide from the border. And it is 11 kilometers long. That’s it. When the gazelles leave this small area, people in other places do not recognize them, and try to shoot them with their rifles.
Gazelles have managed to find a habitat and breed here in this region in Turkey. They are wild animals. They feed on the crops, and go back to mountainside at the end of the day, where they spend the night. Their social organization is different. Males, females, young females, and young males from separate groups, and they live on like that. These are female gazelles. They have smaller horns. Young females do not have their horns yet. The females look more delicate and graceful than the males. They are grazing. This is their area.
Even if they go to the mountains at night, they come back to this area to graze during the daytime. The females have formed a group separate from the males. Each group consists of two or more gazelles. They keep the males at a distance. But the males will have to cut that distance during the mating season. Another group consists of male gazelles. Their big horns are usually curved upwards and backwards. They claim a specific territory. This is their territory. The group leader male rubs his head to mark his territory. In order to mark their territories, gazelles leave a substance, which is secreted from their glands under their eyes, and which smells like tar, to field borders or to ridges at corners.
This smell ensures that the other gazelles know that the territory has an owner. If any other adult male enters the territory of a male gazelle, he defends his territory even if he has to fight for it. This male gazelle makes such a mistake. But the owner of the territory stands against him immediately. They’re grazing. As always, the males and the females are separated. This gazelle, which is not a part of any herd, is grazing alone. A gazelle eats greens, grass and leaves equal to 30% of its weight every day. They are resistant to thirst. They get most of their water from these plants, which contain a high percentage of water.
We are installing hidden cameras on their passage way. We want to get a better footage of them. They are running around again, they are now near our camera. We get excited because they will soon be right in front the camera, but they suddenly stop. They notice our camera. We can’t understand how they could notice such a small object in such a wide area. We are all surprised. They look at our camera carefully, and walk away from it. At times, gazelles harm villages’ crops. Sometimes, some villagers cannot get any produce from their fields. Despite all this harm, villagers who live near, the gazelles do not complain about it. And the villagers said:
“The gazelles harm our crop, but we don’t care. As we consider them sacred, it’s no problem. It has never been a problem to us no matter how much they graze. Even if we see them grazing around, we don’t care because they are not a problem.”
As you can see, they are sacred animals. Just like cows in India, gazelles in Hatay are sacred. Believing that the gazelles bring fertility to their soil, local people do not harm them, but protect them instead. They consider this one of their tasks. We are going to talk to the local shepherds, who share the same area with the gazelles. The sheep and goats, which they take out to the meadow, share the same water and greens with the gazelles. We are asking about their approach to the gazelles.
“The gazelles don’t run away from us, they walk around with the sheep and goats instead. They don’t run away from the shepherds, either. All the shepherds protect the gazelles. They protect them from wild dogs, the shepherds’ dogs and hunters. Now the gazelles are living together with the sheep. We can get close to them as much as 50-60 meters. The gazelles don’t escape from us. And as they are sacred animals, nobody harms them. When hunters attempt to shoot them, we stop them. We tell them that gazelles are sacred animals, and they shouldn’t shoot them.”
People also believe that if they shoot gazelles, they will get very bad luck. People tell stories of bad luck caused by gazelle hunters. These stories have been told for many generations. A nature-lover academician: “I once met one of these hunters. He was the toughest of all hunters. He told me he got cancer. He said he knew he got cancer because he shot gazelles.” And also, a villager: “Nobody shots the gazelles, and those who shot gazelles experienced very bad luck, and everybody knows this, and nobody kills them.”
Believing that they will get bad luck, villagers do not hunt for the gazelles. This is how they have managed to breed so many. They live freely without the risk of being hunted. There is another reason that the gazelles chose to live here. It is a region distant from humans because one side of it is the Syrian border, and the other part of it is rocky and so not suitable for agriculture. The gazelles managed to live in that region. Another factor that has contributed to their sustained existence is that the local people are very sensitive towards nature.
Another reason that the gazelles survived here is that they got confined between the three border posts built along the border. They go back to the hills in the evening. High lands are the safest place for them. Their instincts direct them to mountains. They especially avoid forests. A correct choice for an animal whose only weapon is running fast. We are looking for gazelles in the darkness of the night. We want to observe their nighttime living. There are stray dogs around. We feel they want to hunt for gazelles. These stray dogs are a great danger for the gazelles. Actually, a dog cannot chase a gazelle running as fast as 80 km per hour.
This is a male gazelle. These months are the mating season. We guess this gazelle lost his fight against the other males, and he is wandering alone. We are trying to track other gazelles. There, another male gazelle. He must be affected by the light. he is moving more slowly. Then he chooses to walk away from us. He is walking towards the high hills. High hills are the safest place for him.
And this is a female gazelle. She is resting alone on a wheat field. She stands up unwillingly when she sees us. We wonder why she is here. Apparently, she has a problem. She might be ill or tired. Maybe she is not fit to mate. That’s why none of the males took her to his place. The climate in this region is the Mediterranean climate, and the weather is not so cold even though it’s December. The gazelles mate during these months. It will be though for the males. They have to fight to be able to mate. The winner will have the right to mate with the female gazelles. Male gazelles are polygamous. The number of the females in a male’s place may be as much as 15.
A male gazelle, the leader of the herd, and he won the fight with the other males. He is sniffing the female to understand whether she is ready to mate. He will mate with the ready ones. He chooses safe and isolated places, where he will not be disturbed. He is going to mate with the female gazelles in his place throughout the mating season. But this does not mean that he can get comfortable. He will have to keep the other males away from the group. He has to fight for that.
Male gazelle which lost the fight. He will take a chance during the next mating period. Adult males join female groups only during the mating season. At other times, they either live alone, or join groups consisting of young males. During our observations, we incidentally witness invasion of territories by two groups. The herd leaders get very angry, and immediately draw their lines, and step forward to fight. Both leaders are ready for the battle. They move their heads up and down. This is a sign of confidence, which means “I am ready to fight you”. The tenseness continues for a long time. But they change their minds at the last minute, and go back to normal life without fighting. They have a strong sense of smell. The gazelle is trying to understand what is going on. She smelled our traces.
This is not gazelle smell. There are strangers around and she feels it. The best thing to do is to walk away from there. The next day, we come across another gazelle and this is a male gazelle. His curiosity makes him come closer to us. He is very cautious. One step, and then another step, and then another. He starts to jump. It’s as if he’s dancing. His tail is constantly moving. Our group is silent and very careful even breathing. We make eye contact with the gazelle. We look at one another for a long time. We notice how beautiful a gazelle’s eyes are. Big, bright and look like kohl-lined. He makes short but very loud sounds. Making sounds and wagging the tail is their first reaction to danger.
Their noises increase with the level of danger. They do this to warn their friends. When gazelles feel danger, they first warn the other gazelles instead of running away. We hear other gazelle sounds from a distance. The gazelles that heard the message are responding and they’re communicating. The other gazelles, which got this male gazelle’s message, will first run away. They will run 200-300 meters, and then they will stop and look back. If it is still dangerous, they will continue to run. They can see danger even from a distance of 2 kilometers. If they are unable to see it, they listen to the sounds around them, and perceive the danger 300-400 meters away from them.
They are very timid animals. They move around all day long. They always change place and they’re very agile and also very fast runners. This is their superiority to their predators. It is difficult to track them. Their leg muscles are strong enough to let them run for a long time. These muscles, which make them jump forwards 9 meters and jump upwards 3 meters, also makes it possible for them to run at a velocity of 80 kilometers per hour. The mating season is over now. In six months time, we expect to see baby gazelles together with their parents here on these fields. We hope so.