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Scimitar Horned Oryx

Oryx dammah

  1. Not Evaluated
  2. Data Deficient
  3. Least Concern
  4. Near Threatened
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Endangered
  7. Critically Endangered
  8. Extinct in the Wild
  9. Extinct

About Us

At Woburn Safari Park we have a herd of Scimitar Horned Oryx which can be seen in the Giraffe Junction section of the road safari. They are able to roam in their 7 acre exhibit which they share with our large herd of Rothschild Giraffe and Grevy’s Zebra.

During the winter they are housed at night in the African Ungulate Conservation Centre, otherwise known as the ‘Antelope House’. This house has a fundamental role in the future captive breeding of this species as well as a number of other endangered species.

Click here to read more about Oryx conservation programs in the wild. 

Distribution
North Africa but now extinct. Captive herds are kept in Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco.
Habitat
Sub-desert areas and wooded depressions between dunes and grassy steppe.
Height
3.6-4.1 ft at the shoulder
Weight
180 to 200 kg
Lifespan
20 Years
Threats
Hunted for their horns, hides and their meat is also prized.

Social Behaviour

Scimitar horned Oryx are found in herds that usually consist of up to 70 individuals. Generally, a high ranking female is in front of the group whilst a dominant male directs the herd’s movements from the back. Males have been observed to adopt group living as well as territoriality and this is influenced by environmental conditions and the distribution of females. Herds have a strong social structure and a well-defined social hierarchy, they are extremely gregarious and individuals are very reluctant to live solitary. During the wet season, herds migrate north into the Sahara returning south as the dry season approaches and it is during this time that numerous herds will join together to form a large aggregation.

Breeding Behaviour

Typical breeding behaviour is done through the means of a mating circle. This is where a male and a female will stand parallel to one another whilst facing opposite directions. They will circle around one another until the female allows the male to mount her. Scimitar horned Oryx have a gestation period of between 8 to 8.5 months after which they will give birth to a single calf. The female will leave the herd to give birth but will return with her calf after just a few hours. These births usually peak between March and October and the offspring are weaned off their mothers between the age of 3 to 4 months.

Diet

Scimitar-horned Oryx are herbivores and the bulk of their diet consists of feeding on annual grasses. They will also feed on herbs, roots, buds and fruits and vegetables when available. They will migrate during the wet season in search of green grass.

Physical Features

Scimitar horned oryx have a white coat with a chestnut brown neck and chest and some individuals have chestnut brown flanks and thighs also. They have chestnut brown vertical stripes on their faces and a long tufted tail. Their white coat helps to keep the Oryx cool by reflecting the heat of the desert sun and they have black skin to prevent sunburn. Oryx calves are born with a beige colour coat and there markings will develop as they age. The species most distinguishing feature is there long sickle shaped horns which are found on males and females. They curve backwards and on average reach a length of 40 inches. The female’s horns are usually more slender then those of the male and the length and thinness of the horns make them particularly fragile and they are prone to breaking.

They are very well adapted to their harsh environment, they have large spread hooves which allow them to walk on the sand of their dry habitat. They are able to survive without water for 9 to 10 months due to specialized kidneys that prevent excess loss of water through urine and minimizing perspiration by raising their body temperature to a maximum of 116 degrees Fahrenheit as well as obtaining some moisture from their diet. Up to this temperature there is a normal flow of heat from the body to the environment without a loss of water, only after this point does it start to perspire. Another anatomical adaptation that allows the Oryx to tolerate high temperatures that would be lethal to most other mammals is a network of fine blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the brain. These blood vessels travel close to the nasal passage allowing them to cool by five degrees Fahrenheit before it is pumped to the brain which is one of the most heat sensitive organs of the body.

Threats

Mankind has been the greatest threat to Scimitar horned Oryx populations. These animals have been hunted for their horns and hides by natives and their meat is also prized. During war events in North Africa, Scimitar horned Oryx were hunted to the point of extinction to feed human populations. They also had to compete with domestic herds for food and water. Their natural predators include lions, leopards, cheetah, jackal, vultures and Cape hunting dogs. Climate change has also had an impact on the species  populations as the Sahara region gets drier and drier. As part of planned reintroduction projects Scimitar horned Oryx have been released into fenced protected areas in Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal.

There is a global captive breeding programme for this species with long term planned reintroduction programmes for captive animals. They have been extinct in the wild since 2007 and they are managed as part of an EEP so that captive breeding populations can be managed ensuring the genetic diversity of the species is protected.

To find out more information on Scimitar horned Oryx conservation click on the links below.

Sahara Conservation Project

Conservation Centre for Species Survival 

Fun Facts

The tip of their tongue is black and this helps to protect against sunburn!