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Bringing Gazelles Back from the Brink of Extinction

Bringing Gazelles Back from the Brink of Extinction

June 10, 2020

Desert & Water Research, Natural Sciences

Green Prophet — The endangered mountain gazelle, known as Gazella gazella, was once widespread throughout the Fertile Crescent in parts of present-day Israel, Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.

Dr. Uri Roll of BGU’s Marco and Louise Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology

New research led by Dr. Uri Roll of BGU’s Marco and Louise Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology and Prof. Yoram Yom-Tov of Tel-Aviv University, together with Amir Balaban, Ezra Hadad, and Gilad Weil, reviews mountain gazelle dynamics in Israel from the beginning of the 20th century and provides an outlook for the conservation of the species.

The findings were recently published in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

Archaeological remains indicate that gazelles were the main prey hunted by people throughout the Pleistocene. Nevertheless, until the 19th century, the mountain gazelle survived this hunting pressure, and thrived.

It’s the same story everywhere: the rise in human population in this region from 1900 to 2016, together with the increased use of firearms and off-road vehicles for hunting, led to the extinction of gazelles from most of this area.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are currently the last strongholds of the mountain gazelle and are home to about 5,000 individuals.

Mountain gazelle male in a semi-urban setting, coastal plain, Israel.

During the 1900s, Israel’s human population increased steadily by 2% per year. The human population density is currently c. 430 persons per km2 and is forecasted to continue to rise.

This presents an array of threats to the mountain gazelle. These include: habitat change; fragmentation and isolation by roads, railways and fences; predation by an increasing population of natural predators and feral dogs; poaching; and collisions with road traffic.

These threats often act in synergy, amplifying their effects.

The research presents an overview of how these factors threatened and continue to threaten the survival of this species. They also review the policy and management actions, both implemented and still required, to ensure the persistence of the mountain gazelle.

In addition, they analyze connectivity of gazelle populations in the landscape, highlighting highly fragmented populations, and suggesting potential interventions.

To improve connectivity, they suggest construction of road over/underpasses in strategic locations, translocation of individual gazelles when needed, and better monitoring of potential genetic bottlenecks of the at-risk population.

To reduce the effects of predation, the research team suggests reinstating the control of feral dogs, and improved management of anthropogenic waste.

Furthermore, greater efforts should be made to eliminate poaching of gazelles on the legislative, enforcement and education fronts.

More broadly, Israel’s human population is expected to double in the next 30 years – which will have grave implications on many local species and ecosystems, some of which are of global importance.

Efforts should be made at the national level to limit this growth and stop further land conversions from natural habitats to other uses.

The mountain gazelle exemplifies an ungulate with both great vulnerability to anthropogenic pressures and a large breeding potential.

As more and more regions are converted to human-dominated landscapes, pressures on wildlife will continue to increase, and lessons from the mountain gazelle could prove valuable elsewhere.

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