Oryx | African Wildlife Foundation

In medieval England, oryx horns
were marketed as unicorn horns

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Oryx

Conservation Status:

Least Threatened

  • Live in herds of up to 600 animals
  • Population of 373K individuals
  • Private land holds 45% of the population

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Oryx gazella

Weight

250 to 390 lb.

Size

47 in. at the shoulder

Life span

Up to 20 years

Habitat

Dry plains

Diet

Herbivorous

Gestation

8.5 months

Predators

Lions, hyenas, African wild dogs

Habitat

Where do oryxes live?

Originally, various oryx species were found in all of Africa's arid regions. One species that occurred on the Arabian Peninsula was exterminated recently but has now been reintroduced into the wild from captive stock. Well-adapted to the conditions of their hot, arid habitats, oryxes can live as long as 20 years. Kenya's Tana River divides the range of East Africa's two types of oryx: the beisa oryx (Oryx gazella beisa) and the fringe-eared oryx (Oryx g. callotis). The fringe-eared oryx ranges from Kenya to Central Tanzania. The beisa oryx ranges from Ethiopia through Somalia into Northeastern Uganda and Kenya. 

Tags: Kenya, Tanzania, Maasai Steppe, Samburu, East Africa View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What is an oryx?

The oryx is a large antelope with long, spear-like horns. It is a true desert animal, with a thick, horse-like neck; a short mane; and a compact, muscular body. A defined pattern of black markings that contrast with the white face and fawn-colored body are prominently displayed in dominance rituals to emphasize the length of horns and strength of the shoulders. 

Behavior & Diet

Oryxes eat smart.

They typically feed in early morning and late afternoon, feasting mainly on coarse grasses and thorny shrubs. In desert areas, they consume thick-leaved plants, wild melons, and roots and tubers they dig out of the ground. Plants collect dew, which is gradually released during the hotter parts of the day. Some plants increase their water content by 25 to 40%, so when oryxes feed late at night or early in the morning, they maximize both food and water sources.

Males are pitted against each other in strength tests.

The dominance hierarchy among oryxes is based on age and size. As they grow, calves assess one another in tests of strength that look like games. As the hierarchy becomes established, the need to fight is reduced. Ritual displays replace actual contact, except when evenly matched individuals may have to fight to establish their rank. Along with lateral displays, oryxes perform a slow, prancing walk and sometimes break into a gallop. When several males are making these displays, they may clash horns. The nonterritorial males live in mixed groups with females, or with females and their young. Males that dominate are territorial to a degree, marking their areas with dung deposits.

Females like to calve in private. 

A female leaves the herd to give birth and hides the calf for its first 2 or 3 weeks of life, visiting a few times a day to nurse it. The newborn is an inconspicuous brown color. The black markings begin to appear when the calf is ready to return to the herd with its mother. Calves are suckled for 6 to 9 months and reach maturity at 18 to 24 months. Most young males migrate out of their natal group to join other groups.

Gallery
  • Oryx David Thomson
  • Oryx David Thomson
  • Oryx David Thomson
  • Oryx Stephen Ham
  • Namibia David Thomson
Challenges

Oryxes are hunted by humans.

The tribesmen of Lake Turkana hunt oryx for their meat and hides, and in many cultures, the horns of the oryx are sought after as charms.

They are losing habitats to humans.

The oryx’s habitat is decreasing as human populations grow and expand, resulting in growth of agriculture, settlements, and roads.

Solutions

Our solutions to protecting the oryx:

  • Set aside space for wildlife.

    African Wildlife Foundation works with governments and villages to designate wildlife corridors—large swaths of land that oryxes use to roam freely and safely from one park, or country, to another. Corridors link protected areas and allow wildlife to follow rains or travel to their calving grounds.

  • Develop conservation tourism.

    AWF brings together communities and private investors to construct conservation tourism lodges like The Sanctuary at Ole Lentille in Kenya. The lodge provides sustainable income for the community, and the 20,000-acre conservancy is a safe home to a variety of wildlife. 

Projects

Will you show the oryx your support?

With your help, AWF can work on critical initiatives that provide safe spaces for the oryx to live like setting aside land for wildlife corridors and developing conservation tourism. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the oryx does not become an endangered species.

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