The gerenuk, whose name means “giraffe-necked” in the Somali language, is an exceptionally long-necked antelope. The gerenuk’s head is small for its size, but its eyes and ears are large. Only the males have horns, which are stout and heavily ringed, and they have a more heavily muscled neck than the females do. Gerenuks have a coat that is brown on the upper back and lighter on the sides. The short tail looks longer, as it ends in a tuft of black hair. Like many other gazelles, gerenuks have preorbital glands in front of the eyes that emit a tar-like, scent-bearing substance they deposit on twigs and bushes to mark their territory. They also have scent glands on their knees that are covered by tufts of hair and between their split hooves.
Gerenuks feed at higher reaches than most other gazelles and antelopes. They stand erect on their hind legs, with their long necks extended, to browse on tall bushes. By using their front legs to pull down higher branches, they can reach leaves 6 to 8 feet off the ground. The tender leaves and shoots of prickly bushes make up most of their diet, along with a nutritious mix of buds, flowers, fruit, and climbing plants. They do not eat grass and do not require water. They can get enough moisture from the plant life they eat and can survive in dry thornbush country and even in desert. Gerenuks’ social groups may consist of related females and their young or bachelor groups of males. Sometimes, males will live alone. The latter are thought to be territorial, but as their ranges are large and populations are usually sparse, it has been difficult for scientists to determine if they defend these territories. Female groups wander over a home range of 1 to 2 square miles, passing in and out of male territories.
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