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Animal Data > Arabian Oryx

(Oryx leucoryx)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Endangered Once widespread across the desert and semi-desert of Sinai and Arabian peninsular. Now found in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Oman. 2 years
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
1 280 days 15 years

Arabian Oryx
(Click for larger image)
The preferred habitat of the Arabian oryx is the gravel area surrounding deserts, where vegetation is abundant. However, herds move to the inner desert when disturbed, or to take advantage of sudden rains. Oryx cover considerable distances in search of grazing, feeding mostly in the early morning or evening, when temperatures are bearable and the scrub coated in dew. Midday temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius, so the oryx use their hooves and horns to scrape a hollow in the shade of a rock or bush, to shelter from the worst of the heat. The animals' pale coat provides good camouflage.

Vast herds of oryx used to live right across the deserts of the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas. Traditional hunting for meat and leather by tribes of nomadic Arabs had little impact on their numbers, as only primitive weapons such as bow and arrows were available. Once modern guns became common, widespread slaughter caused a rapid decline in the number of oryx. Parties of wealthy Arabs and Western oil men, in jeep conveys, relentlessly pursued the last herds using machine guns to mow down all the wildlife in their path. By 1962, only a handful of oryx remained, finding refuge in the remote deserts of the Rub al Khali in southern Arabia.

Main Features

Smallest member of the oryx family, 1 metre (3'4") at the shoulder. Pure white with dark chocolate markings on legs and face. Horns almost straight, up to 75cm (29") long. Broad hooves for walking on sand.

The Arabian oryx is thought to be the animal behind the Unicorn myth. Occasionally oryx lose a horn, and it is easy to see how a beautiful, white, one-horned antelope could be mistaken for a mythical beast!

In Captivity

To save the animal from extinction, an expedition set out to collect as many of the survivors as possible. Eventually 2 males and 1 female were rescued and sent to Phoenix Zoo in the USA. Joined by another 6 from other zoos, the ‘World Herd’ was established and bred well. There are now many hundred Arabian oryx in collections across the world, and the species has been successfully reintroduced into reserves in Jordan and Oman.

©2009 Marwell Wildlife