Known as: Arabian Oryx, White Oryx, Unicorn (mythical and from certain angles may appear to have one horn. Referenced in King James Bible only).
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Over 1,000 (reintroduced).
A large, striking antelope, the Arabian oryx is a brilliant white animal with black accents on the face and black legs. These remarkable creatures stand a meter high, weigh from 70 to 140 kilograms, and sport a pair of slim, upright horns that can reach a length anywhere from 50 to 75 centimetres. These horns are present in both males and females, and small horns are present even on youngsters in the form of short, beginning spikes.
This white colouration is an adaptation to the intense solar heat of the deserts and gravel plains of the Middle East where these antelopes make their home. Sunlight is reflected from the fur, keeping the animals cooler even in the full glare of noon. The dark legs, by contrast, absorb heat in the bitter chill of desert mornings. Arabian oryx are well adapted to their desert habitat, able to go for a long time between drinks, and detecting rain at a long distance so that they can track down fresh growth of grass and other transient plants. Grasses are the preferred food of these beasts, though they also eat the leaves of shrubs, trees, and bushes; herbs; fruit and melons when available; and even roots when necessary.
Arabian oryx form small groups with a single male and several females. The antelopes are relatively peaceful, which allows several groups to share one area of shade, among other advantages. They often wander from place to place, following supplies of food and water, which are scant at best in their formidable home environment. Only one young is born at a time after a two hundred and forty day gestation. When population density is high, herds may number up to around a hundred individuals. The maximum lifespan of these oryx is around twenty years.
Location: The Arabian oryx is found today in Jordan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. These are all locations where the oryx has been reintroduced or introduced.
Hard sand plains and gravel plains are the preferred habitats of these creatures, where they can run quickly to escape wolves.
Threats: Human hunting exterminated the Arabian oryx in the wild, wiping it out over its formerly extensive Middle Eastern range. Only captive breeding succeeded in preserving the species. Today, reintroduced populations are increasing, though oil prospecting in some areas has wiped out or driven away the animals. The population is still fragile due to high mortality in the harsh environment, with everything from snakebite to dehydration killing many animals.
Conservation efforts: The Arabian oryx would not be extant today if it were not for massive and effective conservation via captive breeding and reintroduction. The World Wildlife Fund, the Phoenix Zoo, and Fauna and Flora International played, and continue to play, a critical role in the species’ survival. Saudi Arabia has created large fenced reserves to protect the local population. The Dallas Zoo and various European zoos have joined and strengthened the captive breeding program.
Arabian Oryx Videos
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