On my most recent visit to the desert I spent time in the stunning dunes of Chegaga, and was lucky enough to see Dorcas Gazelle…
One morning we set out by camel from the bivouac in Chegaga to visit a family of nomads and share lunch with them. Leaving camp very early in the morning to try to make most of the journey before the temperature climbed too high. I was gazing sleepily at the horizon and listening to the swish plop of the camels feet when Barbossa suddenly turned and made a ‘horns’ gesture with his hands and put his finger to his lips before pointing into the distance. I managed to suppress the squeal of delight that nearly escaped me as I saw what he was indicating. Two beautiful, delicate gazelle were staring back at us through the shimmering early sunshine from about 50 metres ahead, after a few moments they trotted off unhurriedly and we followed them at a distance, seeing them stop to look back at us again twice more before they tired of our presence and bounded out of sight across the Hammada.
It is difficult to find the words for the feeling of seeing an animal like this in its own environment and on its own terms rather than on television or at a zoo. Wonder, awe, utter humility perhaps? But it is unlike any other experience and one I always feel incredibly privileged to have. When I returned to the family home in M’hamid I wanted to celebrate it somehow and so on a swelteringly hot afternoon just before my return to Marrakech I painted this on a wall… (I will post another time about how to recognise the early symptoms of heatstroke…;-))
Gazelle are sadly becoming a rarer sight in Morocco partly due to poaching for the restaurant trade and partly through loss of environment. Although the gazelle is a protected species here with such huge areas to cover it can be difficult to police. The prevalence of 4×4 travel in the Sahara may also be a factor in that it disturbs the population and may be driving them deeper into more remote areas.