Off and running: Tiny Speke's gazelle is 'built for speed'

April 12, 2016 - 9:37am
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Five months after caregivers rally to save her life, Juliet is thriving at the Oregon Zoo

They're calling her "the little gazelle that could." Juliet, a young Speke's gazelle that almost didn't make it past her first day of life, is 5 months old now and zooming around like a tiny rocket.

"She loves playing and running," said Laura Weiner, senior keeper in the zoo's Africa section. "She's very curious and has been investigating everything she can."

"We weren't sure she was going to make it through her first week, but she's sure looking fit now."

—Laura Weiner, senior Africa keeper

Last week, during her first meet-up with 4-year-old male Speke's gazelle Epi (short for Epilogue) and a gerenuk named Bear, the young antelope initiated some eye-popping games of high-speed chase around the zoo's grassy Africa Savanna habitat.

"She's a gazelle, so she's built for speed," Weiner said. "It's amazing how far she's come since last fall. We weren't sure she was going to make it through her first week, but she's sure looking fit now."

Weiner and other animal-care staff were thrilled Nov. 18 when Pansy, a 9-year-old Speke's gazelle in the zoo's Africa Savanna area, gave birth to her first calf. Speke's gazelles — the smallest of Africa's numerous gazelle species — are endangered, and each birth is considered an important step toward ensuring their long-term survival.

But excitement quickly turned to concern when keepers checked on Pansy the next morning. The newborn felt cold to the touch, and Pansy was observed head-butting it with her horns, unusually aggressive behavior.

Staff quickly intervened, transferring the calf to the intensive care unit of the zoo's veterinary medical center.

It was touch and go for about 36 hours while vet staff struggled to maintain Juliet's temperature and hydration. Her mom, Pansy, required an exam under sedation, so vets were able to draw some blood from her, which was spun down into plasma for transfusions to the baby. They also were able to extract some critical colostrum (first bit of mother's milk) from Pansy, which was tube-fed to the little one.

Once Juliet had stabilized somewhat, staff began bottle feedings every two hours, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. By Dec. 11, she was healthy enough to move out of the vet center, joining her mom in the zoo's Africa Savanna area.

The Speke's gazelle is named for 19th-century English explorer John Hanning Speke. Its historic range is the Horn of Africa on the Somali coast, inland to Ethiopia. The species has been hunted to extinction in Ethiopia and is endangered in Somalia due to war, hunting and overgrazing.