2 minute read


Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Octadecanoate to Ovenbirds

The oryx (Oryx gazella) is a species of antelope in the family Bovidae. Oryx are native to a rather wide range, extending from the Middle East through much of Africa. There are eight recognized subspecies of oryx, which vary greatly in body and horn shape, and in habitat A herd of scimitar-horned oryx. Photograph by Yav Levy. Phototake. Reproduced by permission.
requirements. In some taxonomic treatments, some of the subspecies are treated as distinct species.

Mature oryx weigh 221-463 lb (100-210 kg), have a body length of 5-8 ft (1.6-2.4 m), and a tail length of 19-35 in (45-90 cm). Both male and female oryx have long horns, which depending on the subspecies, vary in shape from spear- to bow-shaped. Their legs are rather long and slender, the neck rather short, the eyes small, and the ears short and pointed. The round tail ends in a black tassel of longer hairs. The basic body color varies from grays and browns to cream in the case of the Arabian oryx. In addition, there are striking dark-brown or black markings on the body.

Oryx are loosely social animals, occurring in herds of several to as many as 60 animals. During the breeding season, male oryx fight over access to females. Oryx bear a single young, after a gestation period of about nine months. The browse on shrubs and graze on grasses and forbs. Although they drink when water is available, oryx are capable of going long periods without having access to drinking water, for as long as several months in the case of the desert subspecies of oryx. Like some other mammals of dry habitats, oryx are efficient at preventing water loss from their lungs and other moist surfaces, and they have very concentrated urine. These adaptations allow the water produced by normal metabolism to satisfy most of their requirement for water.

The Arabian oryx (Oryx gazella leucoryx) of the Arabian Peninsula and the scimitar-horned oryx (O. g. dammah) of the Sahara are both desert animals. Unfortunately, these subspecies have been over-hunted to endangerment. During the 1950s and 1960s the Arabian oryx was close to extinction, but it has since been bred in captivity and protected more rigorously in its native habitat. The wild populations of Arabian oryx have been supplemented by releases of captive-reared animals, and although still rare and endangered, this subspecies has become more abundant in parts of its range.

Most subspecies of oryx utilize semi-desert, steppe, and savanna habitats, as is the case of the South African oryx or gemsbok (Oryx gazella gazella), and the East African oryx or beisa oryx (O. g. beisa). Although populations of both of these oryx have been greatly depleted by over-hunting and loss of habitat, they are still fairly abundant in some parts of their range.

Bill Freedman

Additional topics