Scimitar Oryx

Scimitar Oryx

Scimitar-horned oryx, Sahara oryx

Oryx dammah
Life Span
20 years
kg lbs 
m ft 
cm inch 

The Scimitar oryx (Oryx dammah) is a Oryx species that was once widespread across North Africa. In 2000, it was declared extinct in the wild on the IUCN Red List. Scimitar oryx inhabited semideserts and deserts and were adapted to live in extreme heat. The decline of their population began as a result of climate change during the Neolithic period, and later these animals were hunted extensively for their horns. The Scimitar oryx was the emblem of the ancient Egyptian Oryx nome and today is the animal symbol of the Sahara Conservation Fund.


The Scimitar oryx is a straight-horned antelope. Its coat is white with a red-brown chest and black markings on the forehead and down the length of the nose. The coat reflects the sun's rays, while the black portions and the tip of the tongue provide protection against sunburn. The white coat helps to reflect the heat of the desert. Calves are born with yellow coats and lack distinguishing marks, which appear later in life. Their pelage changes to adult coloration at 3-12 months old. Both male and female oryxes have horns, with the females' being more slender. The horns are long, thin, and symmetrical, and curve backward (a distinctive feature of this species); they can reach 1 to 1.2 m (3 ft 3 in to 3 ft 11 in) in both sexes. The hollow walls of the horns are so thin that they can easily break. The large, spreading hooves are well adapted to allow these antelopes to walk on the sand of their dry habitats.




Scimitar oryx were once widespread across northern Africa. Today, they are bred in captivity in special reserves in Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal and on private exotic animal ranches in the Texas Hill Country. Due to a reintroduction program that was launched in 2016 currently, a small herd has been successfully reintroduced in Chad. These antelopes live in grassy steppes, semi-deserts, and deserts.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Scimitar oryx are very sociable animals and used to travel in herds of between 2 and 40 individuals, generally, led by a dominant male. They gathered in herds of several thousand for migration. During the wet season, they migrated north into the Sahara. Scimitar oryx are active both during the day and night. In the cool early mornings and evenings, they rest under trees and shrubs, or if neither are available, they dig depressions in the soil with their hooves and rest there. In the night or early morning, they often search for food. Males fight often, but not for long and not violently.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Scimitar oryx are herbivorous (graminivorous, folivorous, frugivorous) animals. They feed on foliage, grass, herbs, shrubs, succulent plants, legumes, juicy roots, buds, and fruit. Oryx can survive without water for long periods of time as they get water from water-rich plants.

Mating Habits

9 months
1 calf
14 weeks

Little is known about the mating system in Scimitar oryx. The breeding season usually takes place when environmental conditions are favorable. Gestation lasts about 9 months, after which a single calf is born, weighing 10-15 kg (22-33 lb). Pregnant females leave the herd for a week and both mother and calf return to the main herd within hours of the birth. The female separates herself from the herd for a few hours while she nurses her calf. Weaning starts at 3.5 months, and the young become fully independent at around 14 weeks old. Both males and females become reproductively mature at 1.5 to 2 years of age.


Population threats

Around 7500 to 3500 BCE, the "green Sahara" became dry and the Scimitar oryx's population began to decline due to a loss of suitable habitat. Further humans hunted oryx for both their meat and horns. The northern population was already almost lost before the 20th century and with the introduction of horses and firearms during the 20th century, nomadic hunters were able to decimate the animals. The decline of the southern population accelerated as Europeans began to settle the area and hunt them for meat, hides, and horn trophies.

Population number

According to IUCN, there are estimated captive populations of Scimitar oryx in the following fenced protected areas: Tunisia - around 190 individuals; Morocco- more than 300 individuals; Senegal - around 160 individuals; Chad - around 75 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Extinct In The Wild (EW).


In ancient Egypt Scimitar oryx were domesticated and tamed, possibly to be used as offerings for religious ceremonies or as food. They were called "ran" and bred in captivity. In ancient Rome, they were kept in paddocks and used for coursing, and wealthy Romans ate them.


Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Scimitar oryx is named for its horns, which resemble scimitars.
  • To survive in desert heat Scimitar oryx can allow their body temperature to rise to almost 46.5 °C (115.7 °F). This way they can conserve water and thrive in the desert.
  • Scimitar oryx tolerate high temperatures that would be lethal to most mammals. They have a network of fine blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the brain, passing close to the nasal passage. This way the blood cools by up to 3 °C (5 °F) before reaching the brain, which is one of the most heat-sensitive organs of the body.
  • These antelopes can survive without water for 9 to 10 months because their kidneys prevent water loss from urination, it's an adaptation to desert habitats.
  • The myth of the one-horned unicorn may have originated from sightings of injured Scimitar oryx. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder held that the oryx was the unicorn's "prototype". From certain angles, oryx may seem to have one horn rather than two. Their horns are made from hollow bone that cannot be regrown and if an oryx were to lose one of its horns, for the rest of its life it would have only one.


2. Scimitar Oryx on The IUCN Red List site -

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