Conservation Status Extinct in the wild
This antelope species is white over most of its body. The neck and fore legs are a red brown colour. The forehead and nose have black markings which protect against sunburn while the white coat reflects the sun’s rays. Two horns are found on the top of the head. These are the source of their name as they are shaped like a scimitar sword. The horns curve backwards which is a feature of this species. Their hooves are spread apart to help them walk across sand.
At the shoulder scimitar horned oryx stand 1m (3.3ft) tall. From the head to the base of the tail they are between 140 and 240cm (55-94in) long. The tail adds 45-60cm (18-24in) to this length.
An average male oryx weighs in at between 140 and 210kg (310-460lb). Females are slightly smaller at between 91 and 140kg (201-309lb).
Scimitar horned oryx live to 20 years old.
Oryx’s live a herbivorous lifestyle. They feed upon foliage such as grasses, herbs, shrubs, succulent plants, legumes, buds, juicy roots and fruits. Some species of plants are only consumed after it has rained which makes them more palatable.
Living in the desert oryx need to attain most of their water needs from the plants they eat. They can go nine to ten months without a drink as the kidneys have adapted to not allow any water loss. Water conservation can also be achieved by raising their body temperature to prevent sweating.
The former range of the scimitar horned oryx was throughout Niger, Egypt and Chad. A reintroduced population exists in Tunisia. In these areas they inhabited grassy steppes and semi desert.
Most births occur between March and October but births are possible at any time of the year and the oryx will take advantage of favorable conditions. Mating takes place in the form of a mating circle. A male and female stand parallel to each other and then circle each other until the female allows the male to mate from behind.
If she does not accept his advances she will run away.
Gestation lasts nine months. The female leaves the herd for the birth of her single calf. Soon after the birth they make their return to the herd. On rare occasions twins are born.
At 3.5 months of age they begin to wean off milk and try solid foods. By about 3 months they are fully weaned.
Sexually mature is achieved between 1 ½ and 2 years old.
A dominant bull leads a herd of between two and forty individuals. In the past they would form a herd of several thousand when migrating.
They are a crepuscular species meaning they are active over the dawn and dusk periods. In the heat of the day they will rest under a tree of shrub.
Predators of the scimitar horned oryx include leopards, lions, hyenas, cheetahs, golden jackals, cape hunting dogs and vultures. These species predominantly prey on the weak and young oryx.
It is believed that the myth of the unicorn may have come from sightings of an injured scimitar horned oryx that had lost a horn. When they lose a horn it does not regrow as it is formed from hollow bone.
They are also known as the Sahara oryx
Top – By Tyler Brenot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bottom – By Hatem Moushir (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons