Species Survival Plan
Semi-desert habitat transition area of Sahara between true desert (Sahara) and the savanna (Sahel) woodland zones
Man, lion, leopard, hyena and hunting dog
Grasses, acacia pods, shrubs, succulent bulbs, wild melons, cucumbers, tubers, fruits and leaves
Originally Native To
48 inches at shoulders
Males - 450 lb. / Females - 300 lb.
Antelope with long curving horns up to 36 inches on both sexes; white coat, brown chest and neck
March - October
Captivity 20 years
Nomadic herds of 10 - 30 females and young led by a dominant male
About Scimitar-Horned Oryx
The scimitar-horned oryx once again roams the grasslands of Chad. Extinct in the wild in the late 1980s, 23 animals were released to native habitat in August 2016. The release is orchestrated by Environmental Agency – Abu Dhabi and Sahara Conservation Fund. It aims to have several hundred animals in Chad over the next few years.
Animals from captive populations worldwide, including Fossil Rim, have formed a World Herd in Abu Dhabi, from which release animals are drawn. Scimitar-horned oryx were victims of uncontrolled hunting, habitat loss, droughts, and continued regional warfare, as well as intense domestic animal grazing.
In the early 1970s, the scimitar-horned oryx, together with the addax, were considered the most endangered of the African antelope. Most founder bloodlines for scimitars currently located in North America and Europe derive from two captures that took place in Chad in 1963 and 1966. While they have done well in captivity, these animals have not been so fortunate in the wild.
The scimitar-horned oryx is named for its long, curving horns, which may grow beyond 36 inches. In fact, this is the only oryx with curved horns. Both males and females have horns, but the female's horns tend to be more slender.
Its horns are used mainly for ritualized sparring competitions between rival males, but also during courtship. Its coat is white with a chestnut-brown neck and chest, as well as a brown stripe over its eyes. These oryx are perfectly camouflaged for desert dwelling.
The scimitar-horned oryx, like other oryx, has a black-and-white face mask. However, in this species the black tends to fade to a brownish color.
They are highly selective feeders and utilize plants with high-water and high-protein content. Because of their ability to locate and select these plants and physiologically conserve water, these oryx are capable of going for months without a free water source. They can detect slight variation in air humidity over long distances.
Scimitar-horned oryx eat grasses, herbs, juicy roots, and buds. Acacia seedpods provide important nutrients for mothers with young calves. Wild melon and the twigs and shoots of Capparis are vital sources of moisture. Feeding at night allows oryx to take advantage of higher water content in their forage. They produce very dry fecal pellets and highly concentrated urine.
The white coat helps reflect the heat of the desert. Their black skin and tip of the tongue protects against sunburn, while enlarged hooves enable the oryx to walk easily on sand. Dense eyelashes and strong eyelids protect against windblown sand.
To deal with desert heat, scimitar-horned oryx can tolerate an internal body temperature of 116 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows them to conserve water and thrive in the desert, because they do not need to sweat as much.
Another anatomical adaptation allows the oryx to tolerate high temperatures that would be lethal to most mammals. They have 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 cooling of up to five degrees Fahrenheit of the blood before it is pumped to the brain, one of the most heat-sensitive organs of the body.
Oryx usually travel in herds ranging in size from 2-40. Most often in any particular herd, there will be a dominant or alpha bull. Usually, these bulls provide the guidance for the herd as to when it will move and where. They retain tight control over marching formation and chase down any stragglers with persistence.
Scimitar-horned oryx become inactive in the heat of the day, seek shade, and dig out scrapes in the sand to reduce exposure to drying winds. They graze primarily at night. At Fossil Rim, they are most likely to be seen by guests in the morning.
One calf is born after a gestation period of eight months and nurses until about five months of age. Calves also form groups within the herd called “créches.”
Oryx are seldom seen alone, with the exception of very old males. Historically, these oryx lived in herds of 20-40 individuals, led by a single male. During migrations and times of plentiful water, herds of 1,000 or more were seen.
At Fossil Rim, scimitar-horned oryx are located in the Front Pasture - the first pasture guests enter. Fossil Rim's other oryx, Arabian oryx and gemsbok, live in the Game Preserve and Main Pasture, respectively.
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