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Was This Gazelle’s Death an Accident or a Suicide?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Gazelles have polygynous mating habits. Usually, males will mate with many different females throughout their lifetimes. Yet, this short article from the August 14, 1847, Scientific American suggests a monogamous bond between gazelle that was so strong it produced a tragic ending:

Suicide by gazelle article

While the article suggests grief to be the culprit of the male gazelle’s suicide, it seems improbable unless their captive lifestyle led to a monogamous relationship. Perhaps the male gazelle also ate whatever made the female expire, and it caused some neurological damage, making him harmful to himself and others. It is certainly hard to deduce from the information in the article. We do know that the male gazelle suddenly sprang forward into a wall. Whether intentional or not, this action seems like the same one performed by gazelles when they are pursued by a predator, known as “stotting,” or jumping into the air with all four legs simultaneously off the ground. Here’s an example:

If this were the case, it is likely that what seemed a suicide may have been the male gazelle’s unfortunately timed response to perceived human predators. However, the romantic in me wants to read this as a Romeo and Juliet situation, and I imagine that immediately after the male gazelle took his own life, the female woke up (not fatally poisoned by what she—in this case—intentionally ate), saw her beloved’s lifeless body, and stotted into the same wall.

While the article probably does not refer to star-crossed gazelle lovers, I’m curious to know if there was any chance this was an actual suicide, and further, whether there is any proof that animals take their own lives. Any animal experts out there care to weigh in?

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  1. 1. sijodk 12:51 pm 05/24/2011

    Any chance, yes.
    Likely, no.

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  2. 2. J. Sippy 1:44 pm 05/24/2011

    In the film "the Cove" Ric O’Barry states that Kathy the dolphin who was used to make the Flipper series committed suicide in his arms. I’m not sure who true it is but it could indicate that more intelligent species were capable of suicide

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  3. 3. rock johny 2:35 pm 05/24/2011

    What’d Kathy do? .38 pistol or swallowed her own blow-hole flap?

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  4. 4. edyong209 2:39 pm 05/24/2011

    Depends on your definition. Some animals will act in a way that ultimately causes their own death. Some social aphids will <a href="">repair their own homes</a> or <a href="">immobilise predators by rupturing themselves</a> and releasing sticky body fluids. Counts as suicide, I guess, although it serves a greater purpose for the colony.

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  5. 5. Carlyle 5:23 pm 05/24/2011

    I remember reading a book called Klondike many years ago about the great gold rush & the terrible trail over the mountains to the site. Many men & animals died along the way. There were reports of animals jumping to their deaths to escape their terrible misery. Horses particularity suffered terribly.
    The book I think was written by Pierre Burton.

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  6. 6. Desert Navy 5:49 pm 05/24/2011

    My first suspect would be acute ergot poisoning. It would explain both the death of the female and the "bizarre" behavior of the male.

    It would be easy to test this by looking at the expense records to discern the baron fed his gazelles and where it might have come from; The weather records to see if the conditions were optimal for ergot growth; And the town records to see if any persons were afflicted with ergotism.

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  7. 7. Carlyle 7:53 pm 05/24/2011

    An excellent theory.

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