Conservation implications of midden selection and use in an endangered gazelle (Gazella gazella)

Authors

  • O. Attum,

    1. Conservation Programmes, Zoological Society of London, London, UK
    2. King Khalid Wildlife Research Center, National Commission for Wildlife Conservation, and Development (NCWCD), Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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  • P. Eason,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA
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  • S. Wakefield

    1. Conservation Programmes, Zoological Society of London, London, UK
    2. King Khalid Wildlife Research Center, National Commission for Wildlife Conservation, and Development (NCWCD), Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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Correspondence
Omar Attum. Current address: Center for Reptile and Amphibian Conservation and Management, Indiana University–Purdue University, 2101 E. Coliseum Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499, USA. Email: omarattum@yahoo.com

Abstract

This study examines midden selection and use by mountain gazelles Gazella gazella in central Saudia Arabia and the implications of middens (dung piles) for the conservation of this species. Specifically, we tested poachers' claims that mountain gazelles are easy to kill because midden use was predictable and conspicuous. We found that midden selection in mountain gazelles is non-random, with middens typically located at the base of the most conspicuous and largest trees, although the choice of midden sites is also influenced by tree species. Middens clearly have olfactory importance; the majority of mountain gazelles that visited middens were observed sniffing the ground. Mountain gazelles visit middens at night, which corroborates poachers' claims that the animals are easily hunted at night through spotlighting. Although the use of open habitats that are accessible to automobiles makes gazelles vulnerable to hunting and being run down, our data suggest that midden use is also an attribute that makes gazelles susceptible to hunting. Poachers can locate gazelles because of middens' predictable locations, as they are placed at prominent landmarks, are visually conspicuous as large dung piles, and are visited at night, which allows the animals to be found through spotlighting. Other taxa that use predictable and prominent landmarks, or communicate through visually conspicuous methods could also be susceptible to poaching.

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