• SCIENTIFIC NAME: Litocranius walleri

  • SWAHILI NAME: Swala twiga

Its snakelike neck and bulbous eyes give the gerenuk an alien-like look. While all ungulates can stand on their back legs, only the gerenuk attains an almost vertical posture. It can stand like this for considerable amounts of time while it eats. This skill allows this gazelle to pluck vegetation from higher places than other species of comparable size can. The gerenuk uses its front legs to pull down tough-to-reach branches.





Daily Rhythm




Life span

In the wild: 7 to 8 years (estimated)
In captivity: 17 years

Conservation Status

Near threatened


Male: 88.2 to 114.6 lb (40 to 52 kg)
Female: 77.2 to 99.2 lb (35 to 45 kg)


Male: 37.4 to 41.3 in (95 to105 cm) high at shoulder
Female: 35.4 to 39.4 in (90 to 100 cm) high at shoulder


Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Upside-down "hearts" with a very delicate point; very faint and shallow
Scat: Extremely dry

Gerenuk tracks

Trivia Question

How do male gerenuks fight?


Head-on collisions would severely damage the slender necks of both combatants. To protect their necks, males hold their heads low, then crash horns together by nodding and jerking their heads.

Social Structure

Gerenuk social structure is similar to that of other species of antelopes. They live alone or in small herds of about five or six members. Larger groups are usually temporary, forming when good food is particularly abundant. Herds vary in terms of the age and sex of their members. As they grow, young male gerenuks form peer groups for short periods. Females also form small herds, and both female and sub-adult male groups establish their own home ranges, although boundaries overlap. Older males tend to remain solitary and establish very set territories. Mixed groups also occur. Although males within these groups are dominant, they trail the herd instead of leading it and have no say in the group’s movements. Relationships are not long-lasting. Even the bond between mother and calf ends with the birth of the next offspring.


Gerenuks communicate mainly by head rubbing. Although vocal communication is very rare, these gazelles will emit a short snort when they are in distress, and young gerenuks bleat for their mothers.


Gerenuks alternate between eating and moving, though how much time they spend doing each activity varies daily and by season. On hot days, gerenuks spend less time moving and foraging, preferring to rest in shady areas. What they do at night depends on how much light the moon and stars provide; they are much less active on darker nights when they are more vulnerable to predators. Although male gerenuks have horns, they rarely use them for fighting. Instead, they use their horns for “shrub horning”—assaulting trees or bushes in a type of combat display. Younger males also use their horns to play fight with one another.


Gerenuks are particularly susceptible to habitat destruction by humans and elephants that reduces the bushy layer of vegetation these gazelles rely upon. However, because gerenuks thrive on overgrazed areas and don’t live in agricultural regions, they have evaded some of the more common perils that face other species. Large sections of their range are within protected areas, such as Kenya’s Tsavo East, Meru, and Amboseli national parks, as well as other game reserves. Still, illegal hunting, firewood collection, and farming activities continue to reduce their numbers, and wars and politicial unrest not only put populations at risk but also make gathering data on the gerenuk’s status very difficult.

Range & Habitat

Gerenuks range from southern Djibouti to Ethiopia and Somalia, through most of Kenya, into northeastern Tanzania.

Gerenuks prefer semiarid to arid habitats. They are particularly fond of regions that have patches of thorny shrubs like acacias. Although they don’t require—or need—easy access to water, they do need shrubbery to eat.


The gerenuk’s long and narrow muzzle, flexible lips, versatile tongue, and slender and supple neck make it particularly adept at plucking leaves from thorny trees and bushes. Gerenuks are picky eaters and will eat only the leaves, flowers, and fruits of broad-leaved plants. They are also selective about which part of a plant they eat from. Young gerenuks follow behind their mothers, browsing the exact same vegetation and learning just which plants are best to eat. Despite these restrictions, gerenuks manage to forage from a wide range of plants. These ungulates don’t eat grass in any season and seldom—if ever—drink water.


Gerenuk courtship is similar to that of other gazelles. Before mating, the male attempts to approach the female several times. The male then performs laufschlag, a move where he reaches out a stiff foreleg toward the female’s back leg. This motion prompts the female to urinate, and the male responds by exhibiting flehmen, curling back his lips and breathing in to sense her readiness to breed. Mating occurs while the pair moves forward, with the male walking on his hind legs. The male will mark the female’s shoulders or backside with scent glands near his eyes. (Males in captivity hum while courting a female, but this behavior is not documented in the wild.) Female gerenuks give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of 28 to 29 weeks. They can give birth about every seven to nine months, starting when they are less than two years old. Female gerenuks give birth standing up, and the newborn can stand less than an hour after birth. The calf then begins a lying out period, hiding in different locations during the day and the night. The mother returns now and then to feed and clean her offspring. After about four to six weeks, young gerenuks stop nursing and begin to join their mothers to eat plants. By two to three months, they are adept at rising up on their back legs. Both male and female offspring eventually leave their mother’s group and join another. Males mature socially by age three, but their ability to mate is based on their success in maintaining a territory.

Friends & Foes

Like other gazelles, gerenuks tend to fall prey to large predators such as cheetahs, African wild dogs, and leopards.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Overall, the gerenuk’s range has remained stable, though local populations have changed quite a bit due to human activity. It is difficult to get a full and accurate census due to the gerenuk’s camouflaged coat and its preference for thicketed habitats. Estimates hover around 24,000 in Africa, though some scientists argue that there may be as many as 95,000. In Kenya, gerenuks disappeared from the area around Lake Baringo in the Rift Valley at the end of the 19th century.


Did you know?

Gerenuks don’t just stand up on their hind legs to reach food, they can actually walk sideways on them while eating.