Przewalski's gazelles are endemic to China. Historically, they were distributed in central and northwest China including Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Ningxia and Shanxi. They are now confined to 7 isolated populations (Yuanzhe population, Hudong-Ketu population, Haiyan-Gangcha population, Talixuanguo population, Bird-island population, Shengge population and Qiejitan population) that are separated by geographical barriers or human activity around Qinghai Lake, a large salt lake in the province of Qinghai.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
- Leslie, D., C. Groves, A. Abramov. 2010. Procapra przewalskii (Artiodactyla: Bovidae). MAMMALIAN SPECIES, 42(860): 124–137. Accessed March 03, 2011 at http://www.asmjournals.org/doi/full/10.1644/860.1.
- Ye, R., P. Cai, M. Peng, X. Lu, S. Ma. 2006. The investigation about distribution and population size of Przewalski’s gazelle (Procapra przewalskii) in Qinghai Province, China. Acta Theriologica Sinica, 26 (4): 373-379.
During summer, Przewalski's gazelles are yellowish brown with white fur on the venter and inside of the limbs. They molt to a less colorful pelage in winter, usually light brown or ivory-white. Their most prominent feature is a white patch on the rump partly bisected by a light brown line. Average body length is around 110 cm, and the tail is always less than 11 cm in length. The nasal bone is long, without lateral prongs and there are no preorbital depressions. Przewalski's gazelles lack distinguishable facial markings, and their tails are dark brown. Only males have horns, which are ridged and curve inwards at the tips, which touch when males are young and separate from each other with age. Horns range from 18 to 26 cm in adults. Males are heavier and darker than females.
Przewalski's gazelles are often confused with Tibetan gazelles, Mongolian gazelles, and goitered gazelles. Most Przewalski's gazelles have a shoulder height ranging from 50 to 70 cm, mass ranging from 17 to 32 kg and are larger than Tibetan gazelles, which have a shoulder height ranging from 54 to 65 cm and mass ranging from 13 to 20 kg. In addition, Przewalski's gazelles have shorter, more curvaceous horns than Tibetan gazelles. Both species are smaller and shorter than Mongolian gazelles, and goitered gazelles, which have a combined shoulder height ranging from 60 to 84 cm and a combined mass ranging from 29 to 45 kg. Of these 4 species, Mongolian gazelles have the largest skulls and smallest horns, and goitered gazelles have the most pronounced color patterns (e.g., black stripes on their faces).
Range mass: 17 to 32 kg.
Average mass: 25 kg.
Range length: 105 to 110 cm.
Average length: 110 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; male more colorful; ornamentation
Habitat and Ecology
Przewalski’s gazelles inhabit the ecotone between grassland and desert, including semiarid grassland steppes and open valley. Sandy hills serve as refuge from predators, and they often use stable or active dunes as bedding habitat. During winter, they make a short southerly migration to regions where water and vegetation are more abundant.
Przewalski’s gazelles usually live from 2900 to 3700 m above sea level, and they are seldom found higher than 3700 m. The Qinghai Lake area exhibits a plateau climate, with sharp differences in daytime and nightime temperatures and high evaporation rates (4 times higher than precipitation, which is 380 mm annually). Major vegetation types include steppe and alpine meadow. Most plants throughout their geographic range are herbaceous and serve as an abundant and reliable source of forage for both wildlife and domestic animals.
Range elevation: 2900 to 3700 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland
- Li, D., Z. Jiang, Z. Wang. 1999. Activity patterns and habitat selection of the Przewalski’s Gazelle (Procapra przewalskii) in the Qinghai Lake region.. Acta Theriologica Sinica, 19 (1): 17-22.
- Liu, B., Z. Jiang. 2004. Dietary Overlap between Przewalski's Gazelle and Domestic Sheep in the Qinghai Lake Region and Implications for Rangeland Management. The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 68, No. 2: 241-246.
Przewalski’s gazelles are strict herbivores. They have a wide ranging diet of herbaceous and shrubby vegetation but prefer the leaves of crested wheatgrass, prairie sagewort and purple feather grass. During growing season, they tend to eat the above ground tender parts of Poaceae, Cyperaceae and Asteraceae. During non-growing season, food is less available, so they are less selective and eat more of litter and dry stems of Poaceae, which compose the major part of their non-growing-season diet. Other forage items include Astragalus tanguticus, Thermopsis lanceolata, Achnatherum splendens, Koeleria cristata, Orinus kokonorica, Poa pratensis, Stipa purpursa, Blysmus sinocompressus, Carex heterotachya, C. scabrirosfris, C. stenophylla, Rumex acetosa, and Triglochin maritimum.
Plant Foods: leaves
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
Przewalski's gazelles are herbivores and tend to move long distances throughout the day. As a result, they are important seed dispersers throughout their geographic range. During growing season, they choose only the tender parts of plants such as buds and leaves. Unlike many livestock, they do not damage plant root structures and thus do not have a significant negative impact on the grasslands in which they forage. They are also an important prey species for gray wolves. Wolf numbers have increased in recent years around Qinghai Lake. Consequently, predation pressure on Przewalski's Gazelles has increased as well. There is no information available regarding parasites specific to this species.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
- Li, Z., Z. Jiang, G. Beauchamp. 2009. Vigilance in Przewalski’s gazelle: effects of sex, predation risk and group size. Journal of zoology, 277: 302–308.
Wolves (Canis lupus) are the main predators of Przewalski's gazelles, and they pose a significant threat to young. There is little information available concerning major predators of Przewalski's gazelles. Fences confine the movement of Przewalski's gazelles and increase wolf predation rates, compared to areas without fences. Although they are extremely swift and can leap over fences from 90 to 100 cm high, young and pregnant females are especially vulnerable to predation in fenced areas.
- Wolves (Canis lupus)
Life History and Behavior
Communication and Perception
There is no information available regarding communication in Przewalski's gazelles. They have keen sight and well-developed hearing and tend to be highly vigilant. Their sense of smell, however, is relatively poor.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones
Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic ; vibrations
- Jiang, Z. 2004. Przewalski’s Gazelle. Beijing, China: China Forestry Publishing House.
The lifespan of Przewalski's gazelles is unknown. However, population viability analysis suggests a maximum lifespan of 8 years.
Status: wild: 8 years.
- Jiang, Z., D. Li, Z. Wang, S. Zhu, W. Wei. 2001. Population structure of the Procapra przewalskii around the Qinghai Lake, China. Acta Zoologica Sinica, 47 (2): 158-162.
Male Przewalski’s gazelles are either solitary or form small groups during the non-breeding season. They form polygynous mixed-sex groups with females during rut (i.e., breeding season), which lasts from December to early February. Male courtship and mating can be divided into 4 phases: 1) the approach, 2) courtship (e.g., standing on their hindlegs and walking toward the female, which is unique to this species), 3) copulation, and 4) mate tending. During mate tending, males guard mated females for 30 minutes after copulation. Males participate in horn-to-horn combat during rut. Some studies also observed fighting and chasing between dominant and subordinate females. At the end of breeding season, mixed-sex groups break into female groups and male groups or solitary males. Social hierarchies are more apparent during breeding season and are established according to the order in which breeding territories are established. For example, males who occupy their territories first are established as the dominant male and has increased mating opportunities.
Mating System: polygynous
Gestation lasts 5.5 to 6 months in Przewalski’s gazelles. Females give birth in thickets or areas of tall grass from June through July. Usually a female gives birth to only one young each year, however, twins have been documented. Newborn calves can stand and follow their mothers within several minutes after birth. Soon-there-after, mothers and their calves rejoin the larger group and form calf-cow herds. Females become sexually mature around 18 months of age.
Breeding interval: Procapra przewalskii breeds once a year
Breeding season: December to early February
Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Range gestation period: 5.5 to 6.0 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 18 months.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous
Little is known of parental investment in Przewalski's gazelles. However, like all mammals, mothers nurse young until weaning, and calves begin following their mother soon after parturition. Mothers likely defend young against potential threats, as females with calves spend more time scanning for predators than those without young.
Parental Investment: precocial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
- You, Z., Z. Jiang. 2005. Courtship and mating behaviors in Przewalski’s gazelle (Procapra przewalskii). Acta Zoologica Sinica, 51 (2): 187-194.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Procapra przewalskii
No available public DNA sequences.
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Procapra przewalskii
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2003Critically Endangered(IUCN 2003)
- 2003Critically Endangered
- 1996Critically Endangered
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
Przewalski’s gazelles are classified as "endangered" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species and are thought to be one of the most endangered ungulates in the world. Their distribution is confined to seven disjunct areas in less than 878 km^2. Recently, three additional populations were discovered, and yet population estimates range from fewer than 700 to between 1000 and 1300. Prezewaski's gazelles are classified as "critically endangered" in China and are considered a Class I species. Major threats to each population vary. However, habitat fragmentation (caused by increasing human densities and intensive construction of railways, roads and pasture fences) has resulted in small populations with significantly reduced genetic diversity. In addition, overgrazing by livestock reduces forage availability. For example, domestic sheep have a 61% dietary overlap with Przewalski's gazelles during growing season and 81% during non-growing season. Competition with sheep may force Przewalski’s gazelles to select secondary food, thereby decreasing overall dietary quality. Finally, wolf induced mortality increases in fenced areas, especially for calves and adult females. Until recently, illegal hunting for their skin and meat were a significant threat to their survival; however, increased monitoring and enforcement of anti-poaching laws have helped slow population declines.
US Federal List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
- Jiang, Z., D. Li, Z. Wang. 2000. Population declines of Przewalski’s gazelle around Qinghai Lake, China. FFI, Oryx, 34(2): 129-135.
- Zheng, J. 2007. Critical problems in conservation of Przewalski’s Gazelle. Chinese Journal of Wildlife, 28 (2): 31-33.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There are no known adverse effects of Przewaiski's gazelles on humans
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Until recently, Przewaiski's gazelles were illegally hunted for their skin and meat. Fortunately, poaching is no longer a significant threat, as monitoring has increased and anti-poaching laws are now strongly enforced.
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material
Przewalski's gazelle (Procapra przewalskii) is a member of the Bovidae family and, in the wild, is found only in China. Once widespread, its range has declined to six populations near Qinghai Lake. The gazelle was named after Nikolai Przhevalsky, a Russian explorer who collected a specimen and brought it back to St. Petersburg in 1875.
Przewalski's gazelles are relatively small, slender, antelopes with large eyes and short, pointed ears. The nasal bones are relatively large, suggesting an adaptation to the thin air of the Tibetan plateau. They have a head and body length of 109 to 160 centimetres (43 to 63 in), a shoulder height of 50 to 70 centimetres (20 to 28 in), and weigh between 17 and 32 kilograms (37 and 71 lb). The males are generally larger and heavier than the females. The tail is short, measuring only 7 to 10 centimetres (2.8 to 3.9 in), and is often entirely hidden by fur.
The animal is yellowish brown with a white underside and a white heart-shaped patch on its rump, partially bisected by a light brown vertical line. Males are darker in colour than females, and the coat of both sexes is more noticeably greyish in winter. The fur lacks an undercoat, consisting only of dense guard hairs. Male Przewalski's gazelles have ridged horns, which rise between the eyes and curve inwards at the tips; in younger males, the tips may actually touch, but they diverge as the animal ages. In the adult, the horns reach 18 to 26 centimetres (7.1 to 10.2 in) in length. The females are hornless.
Przewalski's gazelle is similar in appearance to both the Tibetan gazelle and the Mongolian gazelle, to both of which it is closely related, and occurs in similar geographic areas. It is intermediate in size between the other two species, and can most easily be distinguished from them by the shape of its horns.
Distribution and habitat
Until the early 20th century, Przewalski's gazelle was widespread across the high plateaus of northwestern China and Inner Mongolia. However, it is now found only in a single small area around Qinghai Lake, having been extirpated across the great majority of its former range. It inhabits flat open valleys and steppeland between mountains, and the sand dunes and semi-desert zones around lakes.
Two sub-species have been described, although one is now believed to be extinct:
Behaviour and ecology
The preferred diet of Pzewalski's gazelles consists of sedges, and grasses, supplemented by herbs and shrubs such as Astragalus. They are often found foraging together with Tibetan gazelles, but do not compete for resources, because the latter animal prefers legumes. Such associations with a related species allow for larger herds, which may help protect both species from predators.
The gazelle usually travels in small groups, with rarely more than a dozen individuals, although much larger herds were reported in the 19th century, when the overall population was higher. Males are often solitary, or travel in small groups of two or three individuals for much of the year, but gather together in small herds with the females during the winter rut.
Przewalski's gazelles are generally quiet, but have been reported to make short bleating sounds.
Przewalski's gazelles rut from late December to early January. Males scent mark small territories and clash with rivals, fighting with their horns. Females have also been observed fighting for access to males. Courtship consists of the male moving towards the female while standing on his hind legs, and is followed by a brief copulation.
Gestation lasts around six months, so that the young are born around May or June. The mother gives birth to a single offspring, usually in thickets or areas of tall grass where they can be concealed from potential predators. The newborn young are able to follow their mother within a few minutes of birth, although they may remain concealed for a few days before rejoining the herd. Females become fertile during their second year, at around 18 months of age. The lifespan of Przewalski's gazelles is unknown, although, based on that of related species, it is probably around eight years.
Przewalski's gazelle is perhaps one of the most endangered species of large mammal on Earth. There are many threats against the species, including competition with domestic livestock, and fencing of the natural habitat. These problems have become exacerbated as the area is increasingly developed as agricultural land.
While now protected by Chinese law, and illegal hunting no longer is considered an important factor, a large percentage of the habitat of this species has already been lost due to human activities. Consequently, it is considered to be an endangered species by the IUCN. Formerly, it was believed that as few as 250 remained, and it was considered critically endangered. However, this is now known to be an underestimate, with new sub-populations having been discovered in 2003 and 2006, and there are now believed to be 350-400 (and possibly even more) mature individuals left.
- IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Procapra przewalskii. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 10 December 2008. Database entry includes justification for why this species is Endangered.
- Three new groups of critically endangered endemic gazelle found. Xinhua. Accessed 2008-12-10.
- Leslie, D. M. Jr. et al (2010). "Procapra przewalskii (Artiodactyla: Bovidae)". Mammalian Species 42 (1): 124–137.
- Zhongqiu Li, et al (2010). "Nonrandom mixing between groups of Przewalski's gazelle and Tibetan gazelle". Journal of Mammalogy 91 (3): 674–680.
- Przewalskis Gazelle. ChinaCulture.org. Accessed 2008-12-10.