The gerenuk is a graceful creature with a long, thin neck. This feature inspired the name “gerenuk”, which means “giraffe-necked” in the Somali language. Gerenuks are a type of gazelle, with a small head in proportion to its body, but large eyes and ears. Only the males have horns at maturity. The gerenuk is medium brown on the upper back and body and lighter on its sides, and lightest in color on its belly and undersides. Its short tail is tipped with a tuft of black hair. It has long thin legs and split hooves.
Like other herbivores, the gerenuk eats plants. However they don’t eat grass. They prefer leaves, along with buds, flowers, fruit, and climbing plants. Gerenuks often eat by standing erect on their hind legs and using their front legs to pull higher branches down into nibbling distance. This way they are capable of eating leaves and other parts of plants 6 to 8 feet of the ground. They don’t browse for their food on the ground like many other plant-eaters do. They don’t need to drink much water at all, since the moisture they require is provided by the plants they eat.
The gerenuk lives in the woodland forest or on the open, dry brushy plains of Somalia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and northern Kenya.
The predators of the gerenuk include cheetahs, lions, leopards, wild dogs, jackals, and humans. When threatened, the gerenuks will stand frozen and totally motionless with their heads high, keeping watch for any further signs of danger.
Gerenuks are not herd animals. They usually live in small groups of 2 to as many as 6 females, along with a single male. Sometimes a group may consist only of related females and their young, or all males. Occasionally a male will live by himself.
The gerenuk is most active during the day, and especially so around dawn or dusk. During the heat of the midday they often stand or lie in shaded areas, where it’s slightly cooler. Much of the rest of their time is spent feeding or going in search of food.
Birth & Offspring
Gerenuk babies are usually born once a year, although sometimes a female will have 2 fawns in one year. Seven months after mating takes place, the female gerenuk will give birth in a secluded place away from the others in her group. The baby gerenuk is not able to keep up with its elders right away and will spend the first 2 or 3 weeks of its life lying hidden in the bush while its mother is away feeding.
The little fawn remains motionless and quiet, blending into the bush, waiting for its mother to return. Occasionally she comes back to feed the baby and clean it to take away its scent. This keeps the gerenuk fawn safer when it’s left alone because predators are less likely to detect its presence.
With its large, long moveable ears, the gerenuk has an excellent sense of hearing, which is useful in detecting the approach of danger even when it can’t see it at first. It also has a good sense of smell and eyesight, which is essential when it senses any threat from predators. Communication among gerenuks consists of several kinds of sounds, such as whistling when annoyed, loud bleating when in danger, and a buzzing kind of noise when alarmed. Females use a soft bleat to communicate with their babies.
Lydia King is a huge animal lover and has always been fascinated with learning about the animal kingdom. She enjoys writing about anything animal related from scientific information about rare species to animal references in pop culture.