Rare six-legged Israeli gazelle captivates attention in Negev

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Rare six-legged Israeli gazelle captivates attention in Negev

Organ proliferation (polymelia) is a 'well-known but very rare phenomenon' generally known for cattle, birds and reptiles.

6-legged Israeli gazelle. Credit: Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI)
6-legged Israeli gazelle. Credit: Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI)

A six-legged Israeli gazelle has been spotted in the western Negev by a reservist who stopped for coffee nearby. 

Two weeks ago, Nir Leichter, saw an Israeli gazelle with “something strange on its back,” as he stopped for coffee in Nahal HaBashor, when he decided to take a picture and send it to Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).

Naturally, the picture was met with curiosity, which led to an inquiry into the creature, led by Amir Balaban, Director of Urban Nature for SPNI.

The inquiry, conducted by Balaban with Nature and Parks Authority inspector Eliav Masalti, revealed that the photograph was of a familiar gazelle with an “extra pair of front legs that grew from the back of its body.”

“The gazelle, which began its life in the Kissufim area as a fawn in 2021, survived a complex litter and survived as a young individual, dealt with many predators that endanger young fawns, matured single and as an adult managed to lead an impressive life in the Nahal HaBasor reserve, one of the most important remaining strongholds for the Israeli gazelle in the western Negev, especially during the recent war,” said Balaban, who immediately rushed to the field to try to document the gazelle.

6-legged Israeli gazelle. Credit: Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI)

“Contrary to expectations, the gazelle is healthy, strong, and has three female gazelles and a fawn from the previous fall. He has been seen hosting the females in the fields and the extra legs on his back pose no challenge to him,” he added.

According to SPNI, that organ proliferation (polymelia) is a “well-known but very rare phenomenon,” generally known for cattle, birds and reptiles. This is the first time it has been documented in an Israeli gazelle.

Balaban said he watched the gazelle harvesting a field and waiting for females: “They were very apprehensive and it was impossible to get close, but slowly I managed to shorten my range in order to document this special gazelle. They moved up the field, lounging and resting in the gentle heat of the rising sun.”

“The Israeli gazelle is a protected wild animal by law and Israel is the last stronghold of this species. Spring is the peak of the calving season and there are small fawns in the area. If you encounter a fawn hiding in a field, it is not an orphan. In the first few weeks, the deer hide the fawns from predators. Move away immediately without leaving any odor marks or residue to avoid attracting predators that will devour the fawn. Chances are that the gazelle is watching from afar and will come to treat the fawn every few hours,” he added.

6-legged Israeli gazelle. Credit: Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI)

Roughly 5,000 gazelles of this species remain in the Israeli wilderness with the main danger to the species being construction which destroys their natural habitats, as well as construction of roads which interrupt their habitats and isolates them from their species.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, such as improving areas defined as open spaces, in practice blocked by fences, infrastructure and more. Other dangers to the lives of the gazelles are poachers, who hunt them mainly for the purpose of trading their meat and the extreme increase in stray dogs and jackals, which prey on the gazelles and their fawns,” Balaban said.

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