The gemsbok is the largest and best known of the four species of oryx, or straight-horned antelope. It is one of the best desert-adapted large mammals, capable of surviving in waterless wastelands where many animals would perish. It is second only to the addax in this regard.

Its metabolism is superbly adapted to conserve moisture. When subjected to hot weather, the gemsbok’s body temperature rises and after three or four hours of exposure it loses excess heat by radiation. In addition, its kidneys are capable of handling very brackish water.

The gemsbok has mechanisms to ensure that the temperature of the blood circulating to the brain can stay below that of the body temperature. When deprived of water, it doesn’t sweat, thus saving it from dehydrating.

The gemsbok doesn’t lose water due to a lack of evaporative cooling. Its urine is highly concentrated and feces are almost dry, so that water loss is minimal in that regard.

The gemsbok often grazes at night when plants have higher moisture content. It is usually inactive for most of the day. Gemsbok are highly nomadic in the desert, but where there are watering holes or a good supply of water-bearing vegetation, herds may remain year-round in smaller home ranges, within which bulls defend territories.

Gemsbok are also found in wooded grasslands, as well as wetter grasslands. They can survive in areas of low productivity. Gemsbok prefer stony plains with at least limited water access, but can subsist in areas of dunes, rocky mountainous areas, and arid habitats with little seasonal water. Gemsbok frequent open areas more than areas with increased tree density.

Gemsbok have very thick, muscular necks. With their impressive horns, predator attacks typically target young gemsbok to avoid risk of puncture wounds.

Newly born gemsbok hide themselves after birth, sometimes with encouragement from the mother in the form of a threatening butt. There the calf lies curled up and waits for the mother to come back to nurse it. The mother usually walks around the area in which the calf is concealed and calls it out.

The calf may then spend the night with the mother before being taken to its next hiding place – often as much as 1.5 miles from the previous one. Females with newborn calves are very wary and will not approach the hiding places if they are aware of the presence of observers.

After a period of about six weeks, the mother and the calf join the herd. Nursing of calves within a herd appears to be synchronized, as all the young suckle within a period of 5-10 minutes.

A young gemsbok’s horns grow extremely fast during the concealment period, and therefore it is easy to understand the myth that a gemsbok is born with horns. Females can mate again a few weeks after calving.

At Fossil Rim, gemsbok live in the Main Pasture - the third pasture you enter.

Where are they?

Gemsbok live in the third pasture you enter. They tend to roam out in the open so they should not be too difficult to see as a large antelope species.

Gemsbok are oryx along with our Arabian oryx and scimitar-horned oryx. Each species lives in a different pasture. As you encounter each one, check out their horns in comparison to the other two.

Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Oryx gazella

Species Survival Plan



Savanna, deserts and dry plains


Lion, spotted hyena, leopard and wild dog


Grass, roots, bulbs, wild melons and cucumbers which furnish water

Originally Native To



47 inches at shoulder


Male 500 lb.
Female 400 lb.


Large antelope with striking black markings on face; spear-like horns up to 48 inches on both sexes; long tasseled tail

Gestation Period

8.5 months


1 calf

Birth Season

August - September


Wild 18 - 20 years
Captivity 20 years

Social Behavior

10 - 50 in herds, usually mixed, nursery herd and solitary; territorial males