Abu Dhabi: He behaves like a cat and thinks a 22-year-old woman is his mother. Johnny the gazelle has an identity crisis.
Johnny, a two-month-old Dahmani (Arabian mountain) gazelle was separated from his mother when he was only a day old.
Chrissie Smuts, a resident in Abu Dhabi, decided to adopt Johnny after he got split up from his mother who was relocated from one farm to another. At that point it was impossible to identify which gazelle was his mother.
Johnny currently lives in Chrissie's room along with a number of dogs and cats.
"Usually baby gazelles feed between their mothers' legs. I used to do the same, kneel down and give him the bottle to feed on between my legs. That way he would feel safer and more natural. He was too young to be on his own, he doesn't even have horns to defend himself yet!" Chrissie said.
Johnny, like the cats, only sits on fluffy or soft objects. At night he is placed in his own dedicated small box with a soft cover to rest on. He climbs on tables to play with paper or tissue, which he eventually starts to nibble on. When yelled at, he responds, as if he knows that he is doing something wrong. He is also very curious about noise, and frequently pays a visit to the balcony to check what is going on outside. He even watches television when it's switched on, said his owner.
"Johnny is territorial, he loves my bedroom and is at ease around the cats and dogs at our house. The cats absolutely adore him and feel comfortable with him around. They even purr when they see him, it's amazing," she said.
Chrissie has carpets laid out all around the room so Johnny doesn't injure himself, since his legs are very thin and fragile, and the concrete may be too slippery for him.
Until recently, Johnny was fed cow's milk with egg yolk every two hours. He currently eats every four hours and only two weeks ago started to show signs of a real gazelle by feeding on grass.
"Whenever I get the milk ready for Johnny I have to test the heat on the palm of my hands first, just like we do with babies. The minute he sees me doing that he walks up to me with excitement," said Chrissie.
She told Gulf News that she is slowly trying to get Johnny to become independent by allowing him to play and run in an open air green camp in the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre, but does not leave him un-supervised due to his young age and strong attachment towards her.
When Chrissie placed Johnny in a green camp, he fed on some grass and ran around excitedly.
The minute she left the area, he immediately ran to his tiny box. It was obvious that he was looking for his owner.
Johnny will soon grow twice his size but Chrissie says he will always act like a cat. She hopes he will become stronger when his horns grow out and will frequently visit and keep an eye on him once he's placed in the centre.
Threatened: Once common, now rare
Dahmani gazelles, also known as Arabian mountain gazelles were once common and widespread.
Today, the total global population is estimated to be no higher than 20,000. There are several variations of what is referred to as the mountain gazelle, some of which are individual and others that are regional.
Historically, the only subspecies definitely occurring in the UAE is G.g. cora, however, the species itself is unique to Arabia.
The mountain gazelle inhabits the gravel plains, foothills and mountains along the periphery of peninsular Arabia and its range is often associated with acacia tree.
- Source: Breeding Centre, Sharjah