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Medium-sized white antelope with brown neck and collar markings (may seasonal color change to a light brown); long horns curve backward
Height at shoulder = 0.9-1.36 m (3-4.5 ft)
205 kg (451 lbs)
Browser, trees, fruit, shoots, grasses, herbs, and leaves
8-10 months; one offspring per birth weighing 9-14.8 kg (20-33 lbs)
Up to 20 years
Barren steppes, desert and sub-desert zones
Extinct in the wild
Scimitar-horned oryx once inhabited the arid borders of the Sahara desert. Because of overhunting, the last wild oryx observed was seen in the late 1980's. Fortunately, this species has been bred in zoos and today small groups have been introduced into northern central Africa. They have white coats that help to reflect the heat of the sun, broad hooves to prevent sinking into sand, and the ability to go for days without drinking, in part because they eat plants high in moisture. Scimitar-horned oryx are an important example of how humans can impact animal populations, both negatively and positively.
Egyptians used to bind the horns of oryx together to make them appear like they had one horn. Soon their horns would grow together. This may be where the unicorn myths began.
Oryx can go without water for several days, which is a great adaptation for a desert dweller.
These animals usually live in herds of 20-40 individuals, but have been sighted at herds of 1000!
Reintroduction of oryx in some areas is problematic because they are migratory animals, and move to vast pastures. Unfortunately, livestock or crops now occupy most pastures.
They are mainly active at night and around dusk and dawn.
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
While information on oryx is limited, they are important to the habitats where they live. As browsers these antelope help keep vegetation from becoming overgrown. They also serve as a food source for carnivores such as leopards, lions, birds of prey, and young baboons.
Oryx numbers have dwindled because farmers shoot them. In addition, they suffer from habitat destruction and poachers.
In a cooperative effort with other AZA (American Association of Zoos and Aquariums) institutions, Busch Gardens closely manages scimitar-horned oryx populations through a program called the Species Survival Plan (SSP), which works to improve the genetic diversity of managed animal populations. Busch Gardens currently has 30 SSP animals.
Estes, Richard D.
The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates
. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1991.
Estes, Richard D.
The Safari Companion
. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company. 1993.
Nowak, Ronald M.
Walker's Mammals of the World Fifth Ed. Vol. II
. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1991.
Parker, Sybil P. ed.
Grzimeks Encyclopedia: Mammals. Vol. 5
. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. 1990.