When an antelope is spotted in the expansive Maasai Mara, it does not make headline news in Kenya but when a hairy one is seen, it is a different story altogether. That was the case a few weeks ago when veteran Italian photographer, Paolo Torchio, caught one very hairy antelope on camera.

Paolo chanced on this rare opportunity while roaming the plains of the Maasai Mara. A part of the Serengeti plains, the Maasai Mara covers 1,500 KM2 of rich savannah grasslands and is home to a wide range of iconic African species, from elephants to lions and giraffes to hippos.

The photos were first published on WildlifeDirect, a conservation organisation here in Kenya. WildlifeDirect has since asked for help in identifying the animal or explaining its bizarre appearance. When Paolo Torchio came across the animal in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park, a few weeks ago, he was astonished to see a terrier’s face poking out of the tall grass.

“I was wondering, what this dog was doing”, Torchio said. When the ‘Terrier’ came out from the grass, he admits he was surprised. The hirsute creature that emerged was clearly not a dog. The animal had all the markings of a Thomson’s gazelle (a type of antelope), “plus the hair! This animal was covered with a strange, thick coat of hair, in stark contrast to the sleek Thomson’s gazelles in its company.

When Torchio found the strange Terrier-like antelope, it seemed at ease with the other ‘ordinary’ antelopes. “Its funny look was not affecting the relations with the other gazelles”, Torchio said. Torchio, who has lived in Kenya for more than 20 years, crept alongside the shaggy creature for 15 minutes, snapping pictures, but eventually, the animal took off.

The Italian photographer spent the next five days trying to find the gazelle but to no avail. Experts are not quite sure what to make of the fluffy little gazelle, especially since Torchio’s photographs are the only known example of such a beast existing.

Weeks later after his amazing discovery, the same strange animal was sighted again by a second photographer, Robert Berntsen, in the same park. A frequent traveller to East Africa, Robert also managed to photograph the creature.

According to Robert and his friends, the animal may most likely be a mutant Thomson’s gazelle, probably a young male. Robert’s findings were purely based on observation and hence could not be verified at the time as well. Robert describes the gazelle which was in the company of other Thomson’s gazelles as having a head that had a lot of dark long hair which covered its head and mouth.

The animal, according to him, had an undershot jaw. But it was difficult, he said, to know whether this was caused by the thickness of the lower lips or the tissue in the chin, or the general prominence of the cheeks and the chin. He also says he noticed what he thought were enlarged blood vessels on the head but quickly adds that this might as well have been an illusion created by the animal’s hair twinned together.

It is amazing that the mystery animal has survived that long in the wild. Robert actually says he saw a number of healthy cheetahs in the area, including a well-fed mother with six cubs, which may not bode well for the mystery animal. So our gazelle is not out of the red yet! According to comments posted on mongabay.com, the animal may be suffering from Cushing’s disease or a mutation. We would love to hear your views. Post your comments below.