Burchell Golden Oryx

The home of the Burchell Golden Oryx

About the Gemsbuck - Oryx

Typical Characteristics of the Gemsbuck - Oryx


Weight and Height

males: wt 367-460 lb (167-209 kg), ht 46-50 lb (115-125 cm)
females: wt 255-414 lb (116-188 kg), ht 46-50 in (115-125 cm)


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.

The oryx, a large antelope with long, spear-like horns, is a true desert animal. It has a thick, horse-like neck with 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 shoulder. 

Average length, 42 in (105 cm); generally straight or slightly curved

Short and sleek

Gray to tan with black and white markings on face ( with the exception of the Golden Oryx )

General Locations
Somali-Masai, arid zones in southwestern Africa and in the savannas. Often seen in the Kalahari and Namib deserts. Most commonly seen in: Samburu-Isiolo GR, Sibiloi, Meru and Tsave NP, Kenya; Kalahari-Gemsbok NP, Central Kalahari GR, Botswana; Etosha NP, Namibia.

The gemsbok has adapted to many places that most large mammals are unable to live in. Ranging on high sand dunes and mountains, gemsboks are considered grazers/browsers and therefore survive on only tough dry grasses, supplimented with foliage. Gemsboks will drink water when available, but can survive on only water-storing fruits and vegetables. Gemsboks can endure temperatures ranging from 99* F to 113* F (45* C).


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, oryx can live as long as 20 years. 

Diurnal and nocturnal. During drought conditions, gemsboks avoid activity during the day and only feed at night or early in the morning. This is when water-saturated plants can easily be found.

Social System
Gemsboks form large mixed herds in which both sexes are ranked on the basis of age and dominant characteristics. Typically, one or two bulls accompany herds of 75 members or more during the mating season. Normally, however, herds contain about 14 members. If water and food are abundant, 11 to 28% of these members are males.

Ranges vary depending on location and sex of gemsbok. Males in Botswana, for example, have been noted to live year-round in ranges of 3.0 to 6 sq mi (10-16 sq km). Females, however, often circulate within 49 sq mi (127 sq km) ranges. Nomadic females typically travel 1 mi (1.6 km) a day while males only travel about 0.6 mi (1 km) daily.


The social system of the oryx is unusual in that 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.

The dominance hierarchy among oryx 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, oryx perform a slow, prancing walk and sometimes break into a gallop. When several males are making these displays, they may clash horns.

A female leaves the herd to give birth and hides the calf for 2 or 3 weeks, 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 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.


Oryx typically feed in early morning and late afternoon. Their diet mainly consists of coarse grasses and browse from 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 percent, so when oryx feed late at night or early in the morning, they maximize both food and water sources. 

The gestation period for the gemsbok is 8.5 months. Since most gemsboks live in dry climates, breeding year-round is typical. Females are capable of conceiving by the age of 2 and males mature by 5 years of age.


Lion, spotted hyena, and leopard. 

The tribesmen of Lake Turkana hunt oryx for their meat and hides. In many cultures, the horns of the oryx are sought after as charms; even in medieval England they were marketed as unicorn horns.


Oryx is one of three or four large antelope species of the genus Oryx, typically having long, straight, almost-upright or swept-back horns. Two or three of the species are native to Africa, with a fourth native to the Arabian Peninsula. Small populations of several oryx species, such as the "Scimitar Oryx", exist in Texas and New MexicoUSA as captive populations on wild game ranches. Oryx gazella were released at the White Sands Missile Range and have become an invasive species of concern at the adjacent White Sands National Monument.

The Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx)(Arabic: المها), the smallest species, became extinct in the wild in 1972 from the Arabian Peninsula. It was reintroduced in 1982 in Oman but poaching has reduced their numbers. Further populations have been reintroduced in QatarBahrainIsrael,Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with a total population in the wild of about 886 in 2003. About 600 more are in captivity.


The Scimitar Oryx, also called Scimitar-horned Oryx (Oryx dammah), of North Africa is now possibly extinct in the wild. However, there are unconfirmed reports of surviving populations in central Niger and Chad, and a population currently inhabiting a fenced nature reserve inTunisia is being expanded for reintroduction to the wild in that country. On July 22, 2009 16 Scimitar Oryx were photographed in open pasture in central Brewster County, Texas, USA.

The East African Oryx inhabits eastern Africa, and the closely-related Gemsbok inhabits all of eastern and southern Africa. Both are considered threatened species. Between 1969 and 1977, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish released 93 Gemsbok into theWhite Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and that population is now estimated between 3,000 and 6,000 animals. The classification of these two animals varies between experts. One system has the Gemsbok as one species (Oryx gazella), and the East African Oryx as another (Oryx beisa) with two subspecies of its own, the East African Oryx "proper" (Oryx beisa beisa) and the Fringe-eared oryx (Oryx beisa calliotis). The other system has one Oryx gazella species, with three subspecies: Oryx gazella gazellaOryx gazella beisa, and Oryx gazella calliotis.


African Oryxes
Mounted oryxes on display

All oryx species prefer near-desert conditions and can survive without water for long periods. They live in herds of up to 600 animals. Newborn calves are able to run with the herd immediately after birth. Both males and females possess permanent horns. The horns are narrow, and straight except in the scimitar oryx, where they curve backwards like a scimitar. The horns are lethal—the oryx has been known to kill lions with them—and oryxes are thus sometimes called the sabre antelope. The horns also make the animals a prized game trophy, which has led to the near-extinction of the two northern species.



 Did You Know?

 The oryx is a good example of an antelope that has successfully adapted to the harsh conditions of dispersed food, intense heat and little or no water.

The female comes into heat soon after giving birth. The more frequent estrus cycles enables females to produce calves at 9 month intervals.


Terminology for Oryx may also refer to