Arabian Oryx Fact File
The Arabian oryx is an almost all white antelope with a large set of horns rising from the top of their head. Black fur is found on the lower jaw and as a spot on their nose. Their lower legs are also colored black.
This coat has no reflection in the harsh sun of their environment. Due to this it is hard for predators to spot them from far away. This fur can also be held erect on cold winter mornings to trap heat in their thick undercoat. During winter their legs may also darken to help with absorbing heat.
At the end of their legs are broad hooves used for walking the long distances they travel over loose ground.
Atop the head of both males and females are aligned, slender horns which are either straight or have a slight curve. These can reach up to 76cm (30in) long.
At the end of their body the tail which is always swishing even when at rest.
Males are larger than females. They will weigh up to 113kg (250lbs) while the females weigh in at 90.7kg (200lbs). At the shoulder they stand up to 0.9m (3ft) tall. Their head and body length is between 153 and 235cm (60-92.5in) long.
Arabian oryx are herbivores. They will feed on grasses, herbage, roots, tubers, bulbs and melons.
As an adaptation to their arid environment they can obtain their moisture needs from the bulbs and melons they eat meaning they can go long periods without drinking water. Moisture can also be obtained from condensation on rocks and vegetation.
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Arabian oryx are found in Africa and the Middle East. This species was driven to extinction in the wild and the populations currently found in the wild come from releases of captive bred individuals. These released populations can be found in Israel, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
They remain extinct in the wild in Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen.
Arabian oryx are the most well adapted of the three oryx species for life in the desert. Their heat tolerance means they can survive in areas with an ambient temperature as high as 45°C.
They are found in a variety of desert habitats such as stony plains, wadis and sand dunes.
Breeding can occur from year round but most births in the reintroduced herds are observed from October to May.
A single calf will be born after a gestation period of 240 days. This calf will live on mom's milk till it is weaned by 4.5 months old.
Sexual maturity is reached between 2.5 and 3 years old. In favorable conditions a female will produce a calf each year.
Arabian oryx will rest in shallow depressions which they dig in the shade of a tree.
In the wild they tend to be active around dawn and dusk resting during the night and the hottest part of the day.
They will form a herd with an average of 10 members though some with as many as 100 individuals have been recorded.
In captivity most herds are kept as a single male with multiple females and their young. Excess males are separated off as bachelor herds and these have been observed to form a dominance hierarchy through fights.
Predators and Threats
The main natural predator of the Arabian oryx is jackals which mostly threaten calves.
To defend against threatens they lean forward and point their large horns out.
During the 1960s humans hunted the Arabian oryx for its coat and horns which were said to have medicinal properties. Through overhunting the species reached a point in 1972 where it was declared extinct though unconfirmed reports exist up until 1979.
A breeding project known as the world herd was initiated by the Phoenix Zoo and the Fauna Preservation Society (now named Fauna and Flora International)(FFI). This program involved captive breeding of the species at Phoenix Zoo starting with 9 individuals including three of the last wild animals and 6 from other captive collections.
By 1981 enough Arabian oryx had been bred by this program to attempt the first reintroduction in Oman. Currently 1,000 individuals are though to exist in the wild with another 5-6,000 in managed care. Their numbers have recovered to the point that the species is now considered vulnerable. This is the first species to have gone from extinct to the wild to vulnerable and no longer be classed as endangered.
Despite this recovery they still require management to prevent their demise again. They still face threats from hunting, overgrazing and drought.
They are also known by the nickname of spear antelope.
The closely aligned horns of the Arabian oryx make them one of the species which are thought to be a potential source for the origin story of the unicorn.
By AhmedAlAwadhi7 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68104542
By Charles James Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC
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