Classification and Range
Oryx are in the order Artiodactyla, or even-toed ungulates (hoofed mammals). They belong to the family Bovidae, which includes antelope, cattle, goats and sheep. There are three species in the genus Oryx: scimitar-horned oryx (O. dammah), Arabian oryx (O. leucoryx), and gemsbok (O. gazella). There are at least three subspecies of O. gazella: East African (O. g. beisa), South African (O. g. gazella) and the fringe-eared. The fringe-eared oryx roams scrub country in northeastern Tanzania and into southern Kenya.
Oryx live in arid grasslands, forested savanna areas, semi-desert plains, thick brush, and near rocky hillsides.
Head/Body Length and Shoulder Height
Adult male body length is 60-67 inches (152-170 cm) and shoulder height is 45-55 inches (115-140 cm). Adult females are smaller in stature. An adult male weighs 368-461 pounds (167-209 kg), while the adult female is 256-414 pounds (116-188 kg). Their tail length is up to 18.5 inches (47 cm); while the horns of both sexes are 25-47 inches (64-120 cm) long.
Oryx can live up to 18 years in the wild, 22 years in captivity.
In the wild: Annual and perennial grasses with acacia pods form the bulk of their diet in most areas. They also eat wild melons, cucumbers, herbs, roots, tubers and flower bulbs; these provide an additional source of water.
At the zoo: Grass hay, herbivore pellets and carrots. Keepers provide fresh browse when available.
Female oryx reach sexual maturity at 1.5-2 years of age; males take up to five years. The female gives birth to her calves at intervals of nine months, with gestation that lasts eight to nine months. She usually gives birth to just one calf, but twins are not uncommon.
At birth, calves weigh 20-33 pounds (9-15 kg), and are an inconspicuous brown color. Young do not join their herd after birth. Instead, they lie still, camouflaged against dark brown grasses. Calves nurse until they are 5 months old, and the mother returns two to three times a day to nurse her calf. Distinctive markings appear when weaning is complete, this signifies that the calf is ready to join the herd. Male calves leave the herd to form groups with other juvenile males, whereas females become integrated with their mother's herd.
Oryx herds vary in size from a few to several dozen individuals. There may be up to hundreds in a herd on fresh pastures or during the rainy season. Herds have a dominant cow leading in the front, while the alpha bull follows behind the herd. He directs the herd mostly from the rear, but runs to the front to make necessary corrections. Males establish and maintain their hierarchy by "fencing" contests or occasional sparring matches, with dominance based on size and age.
Oryx are mobile, moderately fast, and have great stamina when traveling long distances to find food. They are arid-adapted grazers, moving towards fresh plant growth, and are seemingly able to detect when rain has fallen many miles away. Oryx prefer to move and eat mostly in the early morning or in the evening. They usually rest during the day, ruminating and trying to stay cool in the shade of a tree, or in excavated shallow depressions in the soil.
Oryx have a thick, horselike neck and a muscular, compact body. Oryx coloring is fawn with white underparts, including black and white markings on the head. They have a dividing black line down the throat and across flanks, with a black tail. The horns of the oryx are probably its most distinctive feature, since they are straight, long and ringed. Their horns diverge in a "V" shape, and are much longer than that of other large antelopes. Females have longer, more slender horns than the males.
Oryx fight each other, either through exchanging blows, wrestling, or locking of the horns. Defending their territory rigorously during mating season, male-to-male interactions are an awesome sight but rarely result in serious injury. Oryx run when threatened by predators but will fight to the death when cornered. They can even kill a lion with their sharp, spear-like horns.
Aren't you thirsty?
Since oryx are extremely efficient at processing nutrients and liquids from food, they can survive without water for days, or even weeks at a time. Oryx are experts at finding moisture, often digging up dry streambeds to find ground water or eating plants that are effective at retaining moisture. Additionally, oryx can tolerate a substantial increase in body temperature without panting, a behavior that typically results in water loss. Special kidneys also prevent excess water loss through urine.
Location at the Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo's oryx live in the award-winning African Savanna exhibit. Other animals in the savanna zone are African wild dog, lion, zebra, hippopotamus and giraffe. The oryx are likely to be active and visible during regular daylight hours.
The fringe-eared oryx is not listed as an endangered species. The same cannot be said for other oryx species, as wild populations of all oryx are declining. The Arabian oryx is listed as an endangered species, and the scimitar-horned oryx is extinct in the wild. In the past, European settlers in Africa extensively hunted the fringe-eared oryx for its tough neck skin. More recently, poachers have gunned down oryx to near extinction for their incredible horns. The future for all oryx species is uncertain, due to uncontrolled hunting for sport and trophy trade, expanding oil exploration, and farming or cattle ranching into their territory. Human-related activities increasingly drive oryx into smaller and less desirable desert regions, where there are fewer available grazing lands.
However, international cooperation is working to conserve the oryx. Strict legislation protects reintroduced populations of certain oryx species from poaching, and locally recruited rangers enforce new laws. The fringe-eared oryx is included in the Antelope Taxonomic Advisory Group (TAG) Regional Collection Plan, which recommends maintaining and carefully regulating the breeding of a small captive population. Woodland Park Zoo supports the management of this species, through education programs and displaying only males at this time (due to our limited facilities). Breeding captive species promotes genetic diversity, but for an animal as large as the oryx, space can become a problem. Cooperative programs, such as the Species Survival Plan (SSP), allow zoos to work in partnership together to support a wider range of biodiversity. Future development of our off-site facility and enhancements to the African Savanna will allow us to participate in the breeding of this species.
Woodland Park Zoo Is Helping-With Your Support!
For many animals, flexible and sustainable conservation programs are essential. Partnerships with other zoos can support healthy captive populations, while in-situ fieldwork can provide successful on-ground solutions. There are several other field-based conservation projects supported by Woodland Park Zoo that aim to help animals and plants in the oryx's savanna habitat.
Each in-situ project supported by the zoo aims to provide a broad, holistic approach to conservation, by encompassing research, education, habitat and species preservation. This includes comprehensive, cooperative strategies to link the needs of animals with the people who share their ecosystems.
How You Can Help!
Woodland Park Zoo contributes information to the captive breeding, husbandry and public awareness of this intriguing species. The effort to save African mammals requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Let your elected representatives know your views on protecting endangered species and wild habitats. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org find out other ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Estes, Richard D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles. CA. 611 p.
Kingdon, Jonathan. 1982. East African Mammals, Vol. III, part D. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 746 p.