Scimitar Oryx

Scimitar Oryx

Scimitar-horned oryx, Sahara 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 ), also known as the scimitar-horned oryx and the Sahara oryx, 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.

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A captive bred group was released into an acclimation enclosure within the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve in 2016, then reintroduced into the wild. An additional 21 individuals were released into the acclimation enclosure in 2017. The first ones to be relocated were released into the wild in 2016 and have adapted well to their surroundings. In 2017, another herd of 75 scimitar-horned oryxes arrived in an operation led by Chad's Ministry of Environment and Fisheries and the Sahara Conservation Fund. In 2021, 60 new calves were born, bringing the number in the wild to about 400. This particular oryx can survive for months or even years without drinking water. A grazing animal, it derives most of its daily moisture intake from plants.

The scimitar oryx has a long taxonomic history since its scientific description in 1816 by Lorenz Oken, who named it Oryx algazel. This antelope stands a little more than 1 m (3.3 ft) at the shoulder. The males weigh 140–210 kg (310–460 lb) and the females weigh 91–140 kg (201–309 lb). The coat is white with a red-brown chest and black markings on the forehead and down the length of the nose. The calves are born with a yellow coat without distinguishing marks; their coats change to adult coloration at 3–12 months old.

The scimitar oryx formed herds of mixed sexes of up to 70 members, usually guided by the bulls. They inhabited semideserts and deserts and were adapted to live in extreme heat, with their efficient cooling mechanism and very low requirement of water. Scimitar oryx feed on foliage, grasses, succulent plants, and plant parts during the night or early morning. Births peak between March and October. After a gestation of 8-9 months, one calf is born. Soon after, the female has a postpartum estrus.

The decline of the scimitar oryx population began as a result of climate change during the Neolithic period, and later it was hunted extensively for its horns. Today, it is bred in captivity in special reserves in Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal, and on private exotic animal ranches in the Texas Hill Country. In 2016, a reintroduction program was launched and currently a small herd has been successfully reintroduced in Chad.

The scimitar oryx was domesticated in Ancient Egypt and is believed to have been used as food and sacrificed as offerings to gods. Wealthy people in Ancient Rome also bred them. The use of their valuable hides began in the Middle Ages. The unicorn myth may have originated from sightings of a scimitar oryx with a broken horn.

The scimitar oryx was the emblem of the ancient Egyptian Oryx nome and today is the animal symbol of the Sahara Conservation Fund.

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The Scimitar oryx is an elegant antelope once widespread across North Africa. The species went extinct in the wild in 2000. This antelope is almost white with a red-brown chest and black markings on the forehead and down the length of the nose. The white coat helps to reflect the heat of the desert. Calves of this species 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 sexes have horns, but those of the females are more slender. The horns are long, thin, and symmetrical; they curve backward and can reach up to 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) on both the males and the females. Scimitar oryx have large, spreading hooves which are well adapted for walking 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.
  • The coat of Scimitar oryx reflects the sun's rays, while the black portions and the tip of the tongue provide protection against sunburn.
  • 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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