Groves (2011) recognizes six Oryx species. The East African oryxes have traditionally been treated as a single species, Oryx beisa (and often even considered conspecific with the Gemsbok, O. gazella, of southwest Africa). According to Groves (2011), however, although they are very similar in appearance they are best treated as three distinct species: Beisa Oryx (O. beisa), found in northern and central Somalia and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia north to Berbera, west to Eritrea, and south into the Awash Valley; Galla Oryx (O. gallarum), found in northern Kenya and northeastern Uganda and extending into Somalia and southeastern Ethiopia; and Fringe-eared Oryx (O. callotis), found in southeastern Kenya and northeastern Tanzania. The fourth oryx species still living in the wild is the Gemsbok.
In addition to these four species are two species that went extinct in the wild, but persist in captivity and are the focus of reintroduction efforts. The Scimitar-horned Oryx (Oryx dammah)--both sexes of which have long, slender, hollow horns that are annulated (i.e. with ring-like divisions) for the basal third and curve over the back--used to be found on the southern and northern edges of the Sahara Desert. They did not inhabit the desert interior, as does the Addax (Addax nasomaculatus). The former range of the Scimitar-horned Oryx, which encompassed over 4 million square km, experiences prolonged droughts, the most recent of which extended from the 1960s to the early 1990s! The ongoing southward spread of the Sahara Desert likely contributed to the decline of this species. When sedentary, herds consisted of 10 to 30 or even 100 individuals. During migration, groups of 1000 or more would aggregate (an aggregation of 10,000 was reported from Chad in 1936). It is estimated the the wild population of Scimitar-horned Oryx once numbered around a million individuals. In addition to the expansion of the Sahara, the main causes of extinction were human population growth, motorized access to the desert, overhunting, and increased use of key habitats by livestock. The last known wild individuals were in Chad and Niger in the 1980s. Fortunately, captive populations were established beginning in the 1960s (around 4,000 captive animals are in the United Arab Emirates in a private collection and around 2,000 on private ranches in Texas, U.S.A.), so re-establishing wild Scimitar-horned Oryx populations is a possibility that is being actively pursued.
The only native oryx species outside Africa is the Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx). This species was extinct in the wild by 1972, but since then free-ranging populations have been established in Israel, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. This species was formerly present throughout the Arabian Peninsula, extending north to Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, and Sinai. Poaching and overhunting in Oman eliminated the last wild individuals. Fortunately, captive breeding efforts had begun in the 1950s and reintroduction efforts began in the early 1980s and are ongoing. The world captive population is around 6,000 to 7,000, but the re-introduced free-ranging populations include only around 250 mature individuals.
(Kingdon 1997; Groves 2011)
Known prey organisms
Based on studies in:
Namibia, Namib Desert (Desert or dune)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- E. Holm and C. H. Scholtz, Structure and pattern of the Namib Desert dune ecosystem at Gobabeb, Madoqua 12(1):3-39, from p. 21 (1980).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:50
Specimens with Barcodes:18
Species With Barcodes:4
Oryx is a genus consisting of four large antelope species. Three of them are native to arid parts of Africa, and the fourth to the Arabian Peninsula. Their fur is pale with contrasting dark markings in the face and on the legs, and their long horns are almost straight. The exception is the scimitar oryx, which lacks dark markings on the legs, only has faint dark markings on the head, has an ochre neck, and horns that are clearly decurved.
The Arabian oryx was only saved from extinction through a captive breeding program and reintroduction to the wild. The scimitar oryx, which is now listed as Extinct in the Wild, also relies on a captive breeding program for its survival. Small populations of several oryx species, such as the Scimitar Oryx, exist in Texas and New Mexico (USA) in wild game ranches. Gemsboks were released at the White Sands Missile Range and have become an invasive species of concern at the adjacent White Sands National Monument.
The term "oryx" comes from the Greek word Ὂρυξ, óryx, for a type of antelope. The Greek plural form is óryges, although oryxes has been established in English.
The Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx, Arabic: المها), the smallest species, became extinct in the wild in 1972 from the Arabian Peninsula. It was reintroduced in 1982 in Oman, but poaching has reduced their numbers there. One of the largest populations of Arabian oryx exists on Sir Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates. Additional populations have been reintroduced in Qatar, Bahrain, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. As of 2011, the total wild population is over 1000, and 6000–7000 are being held in captivity. In 2011, the IUCN downgraded its threat category from Extinct in the Wild to Vulnerable, the first species to have changed back this way.
The scimitar oryx, also called scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), of North Africa, is now listed as possibly extinct in the wild. However, unconfirmed surviving populations have been reported in central Niger and Chad, and a semiwild population currently inhabiting a fenced nature reserve in Tunisia is being expanded for reintroduction to the wild in that country. Several thousand are held in captivity around the world.
East African oryx and Gemsbok
The East African oryx (Oryx beisa) inhabits eastern Africa, and the closely related gemsbok (Oryx gazella) inhabits southern Africa. Neither is threatened, though the former is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN. The gemsbok is monotypic, and the East African oryx has two subspecies; East African oryx "proper" (O. b. beisa) and the fringe-eared oryx (O. b. callotis). In the past, both were considered subspecies of the gemsbok.
Between 1969 and 1977, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish intentionally released 93 gemsbok into its state's White Sands Missile Range, and that population is now estimated between 3,000 and 6,000 animals. Within the state of New Mexico, oryxes are classified as "big game" and can be harvested with the proper license, but the quality of the hunt may be affected by military regulation of the missile range.
Oryx dammah is the only oryx with clearly curved horns, ochre neck, and no dark markings on the legs.
Oryx beisa resembles the closely related O. gazella, but the latter has an entirely black tail, a black patch at the base of the tail, and more black to the legs and lower flanks.
All Oryx species prefer near-desert conditions and can survive without water for long periods. They live in herds of up to 600 animals. Newborn calves are able to run with the herd immediately after birth. Both males and females possess permanent horns. The horns are narrow, and straight except in the scimitar oryx, where they curve backwards like a scimitar. The horns are lethal — the oryx has been known to kill lions with them, and oryxes are thus sometimes called the sabre antelope (not to be confused with the sable antelope). The horns also make the animals a prized game trophy, which has led to the near-extinction of the two northern species.
- FAMILY BOVIDAE
- IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2011). Oryx leucoryx. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 20 June 2011.Database entry includes justification for why this species is listed as Vulnerable.
- IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Oryx dammah. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 12 February 2011.Database entry includes justification for why this species is listed as extinct in the wild.
- Bailey, T., O'Donovan, D., Lloyd. C., and Bailey, T. (2011). Editorial. Wildlife Middle East News 6(1). ISSN 1990-8237
- "Reviving a Breed", iht.com, January 2007, web: iht7.[dead link]
- IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Oryx beisa. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 12 February 2011.Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of Near Threatened.
- State of New Mexico, NM-PDF-Oryx.
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