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Arabian Oryx: Is It Currently Endangered?

Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) is an endangered species in the Arabian Peninsula. Humans hunt them for their meat, horns, and hides, bringing their populations to the brink of extinction.

  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Known as Arabian Oryx, White Oryx, or Unicorn (mythical and from certain angles may appear to have one horn. Referenced in the King James Bible only).
  • Estimated numbers left in the wild: Over 1,000 (reintroduced).

Due to their rarity, there is no accurate estimate of their total population size, but it is believed that there are less than 250 Arabian Oryx left in the world.

A Close Arabian Oryx

Statistics show that as many as 20,000 Arabian Oryx were once in the wild. However, increased hunting and habitat loss have reduced this to 250.

The Saudi government is trying to protect this species by banning all hunting of the Arabian Oryx and placing them under strict protection laws. However, less than 250 Arabian Oryx are estimated to be left in the wild.


Arabian Oryx Standing in the Middle of the Desert

Arabian Oryx are large, long-necked antelopes that live in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. They stand up to five feet tall at the shoulder and have unique horns that can be seen from miles away. These animals are severely endangered due to humans hunting them for their meat, hides, and horns.

Anatomy and Appearance

Flock of hirolas grazing in the savannah of Nairobi
Demande Philippe / Adobe Stock

A large, striking antelope, the Arabian oryx is a brilliant white animal with black accents on its face and black legs. These remarkable creatures stand a meter high, weigh 70 to 140 kilograms, and sport a pair of slim, upright horns that can reach a length anywhere from 50 to 75 centimeters.

These horns are present in both males and females and small horns, in the form of short, beginning spikes, are present even in youngsters. This white coloration adapts to the intense solar heat of the deserts and gravel plains of the Middle East, where these antelopes make their home.

The fur reflects sunlight, keeping the animal cooler even in the full glare of noon. The dark legs, by contrast, absorb heat in the bitter chill of cold winter mornings.

Arabian oryx are well adapted to their desert habitat, able to go for a long time between drinks and detect rain at a long distance to 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. Herds may number up to around a hundred individuals with high population density. The maximum lifespan of these oryx is around twenty years.


Coniferous forest top view
kichigin19 / Adobe Stock

Today, the Arabian Oryx is found 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.

Arabian Oryx Habitat

Common Beisa Oryx Sitting in Natural Habitat on Our Endangered World

Arabian Oryx live in the Arab world, encompassing Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. This is a vast desert-heat region where dunes are common. They typically survive on the rocky mountain slopes of northwest Yemen.

This species inhabits semi-arid areas, where the hot climate allows vegetation to grow fast. The Arabian Oryx rely on this for food and shelter.

Arabian Oryx Diet and Nutrition

Two Beisa Oryx Eating in the Wild

The Arabian Oryx’s diet is based on the vegetation it feeds on. Although it is naturally herbivorous, it also eats insects and small invertebrates.

These animals are grazers, meaning they do not need to drink water because they get all the water they need from their food.

Arabian Oryx will travel long distances to look for food. They eat grasses as well as the leaves, flowers, and fruits of different kinds of plants and grasses. Their favorite foods include:

  • Acacia trees (found in the Arabian Peninsula)
  • Barberry shrubs (also found in the region)
  • Bushy thorn bushes (these grow in the savannah)
  • Euphorbia trees (also called candelabra because of how branches emerge from central stems)

Arabian Oryx do not eat leaves from low- or sparse-growth plants. They will feed on higher-growth plants that are easy for them to reach. This is important because it helps prevent the overgrazing of more tender plants.

Arabian Oryx Mating Habits

Arabian Oryx

The mating habits of Arabian oryxes are quite interesting. Males have a harem of females to fight off other males. The males will mate with any female that is part of his harem. Female oryxes are also aggressive and will fight off other females from entering their territory.

Arabian Oryx Group Structure

Beisa Oryx

The Arabian oryxes live in groups that are separated by sex.

Males and females come together for mating but avoid each other the rest of the time. They are the only group that can defend themselves against predators such as hyenas. The males typically stay on their own, while groups of female oryxes stick together.

Arabian Oryx Facts

Here are the interesting facts about this threatened species

  • They are large animals with an average weight of 570lbs
  • The males can grow up to 4 feet in height.
  • Arabian Oryx can run at speeds of 30 mph over long distances
  • Some of these species will form herds with other members of their species. These herds usually consist of 10-50 animals.
  • They can jump 6 ft high.
  • The ringed horns of the Arabian Oryx can grow 1.8 feet in length, but they have been seen on older animals up to 2.2 feet in length.
  • Arabian Oryx has a gestation period of 10 months, with one young per birth.

Conservation Status

Strolling Arabian Oryx


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. Reintroduced populations are increasing today, though oil prospecting in some areas has wiped 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 programs 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 of this species’ active or private collections.


If you know of or are involved in an organization that works to conserve the Arabian Oryx, please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.

The Arabian Oryx is endangered in the wild because of human hunting and oil prospecting. Humans hunt them for their meat, horns, and hides, which has brought them to the brink of extinction.

Organizations like The World Wildlife Fund have been working with Saudi Arabia’s wildlife department to create large fenced reserves to protect them from predators like hyenas. In addition, reintroduced populations seem to be increasing, but conservation efforts must continue indefinitely if we want this species to survive in the future.


Arabian Oryx

How do Arabian Oryx reproduce?

Arabian Oryx reproduces only if the environmental conditions permit it. The gestation period for these species is 13-14 months, and they usually give birth to one kid at a time.

Due to their low numbers, mortality rates during birth and weaning periods are high, meaning there’s often high competition among females to produce offspring each year.

Where can Arabian Oryx be found?

The Arabian oryx, or desert oryx, is a species of antelope that may be found in the Arabian Peninsula and for which it is hunted for meat, horns, and hides.

Are Arabian Oryx endangered animals?

Yes, the Arabian Oryx is an endangered animal. Because of their scarcity, there is no precise figure for their overall population size, but fewer than 250 oryx of this species are estimated to remain in the world.

How has conservation helped the population grow?

The conservation of the Arabian Oryx is made possible through the cooperation of the World Wide Fund for Nature, the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (UAE MW), and other partners.

The aim is to conserve wild populations in situ by protecting migratory corridors that enable animals to move up into Saudi Arabia to protected areas.

Effective conservation depends on understanding every phase of an animal’s life cycle-feeding habits, mating behaviors, migration patterns, and water needs. This information, collected over many years, has helped lead to long-term solutions for protecting these animals.

Our challenge now is to figure out how best to manage their native habitat so that it remains suitable for these iconic animals.
In a study by WWF and partners in Abu Dhabi, researchers monitored the oryx using camera traps. 16 cameras were used at two different sites, each set up on a tree or pole 1-2 meters above ground level.

Why was human hunting prevalent to these animals and caused them to be endangered?

Hunting for sport, access to the lucrative trade in skins, and sport hunting was big business. Human settlements near their grazing grounds encouraged even poorer nomadic families to hunt for food.

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