Arabian oryx

The Arabian oryx is one of the largest desert mammals in the Arabian region, and has been an important aspect of its heritage throughout history. After extinction in the wild, it lives again on the dry Arabian Peninsula. This kind of — a desert antelope that is highly adapted to its harsh desert environment.

Origin and Description

Photo: Arabian Oryx

Photo: Arabian Oryx

Almost 40 years ago, the last wild Arabian oryx, a large cream-colored antelope with striking black horns, met its end in the deserts of Oman — shot by a hunter. Unregulated hunting and poaching led to the initial extinction of the animals. After that, the population was saved and resumed again.

Genetic analysis of the newly introduced Omani population of the Arabian oryx in 1995 confirmed that the newly introduced population does not contain all of the genetic variation of the native population. However, no relationship was found between inbreeding coefficients and fitness components, although associations were found between microsatellite DNA variation rates and juvenile survival, indicating both inbreeding and inbreeding depression. The high rate of internal growth of the Omani population suggests that simultaneous inbreeding is not a major threat to the viability of the population.

Video: Arabian Oryx

Genetic data has shown that between most Arabian oryx groups low but significant population differentiation was found, suggesting that management of the Arabian oryx has resulted in significant genetic mixing between populations.

Previously, people thought that this majestic animal had magical powers: the flesh of the animal was supposed to give extraordinary strength and make a person insensitive to thirst. It was also believed that the blood helped against snake bites. Therefore, people often hunted this antelope. Among the many local names used to describe the Arabian oryx is Al Maha. The female oryx weighs about 80 kg, and the males about 90 kg. Occasionally, males can reach 100 kg.

Fun Fact: The Arabian Oryx lives up to 20 years both in captivity and in the wild if environmental conditions are good. Drought reduces life expectancy significantly.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What an Arabian oryx looks like

Photo: What an Arabian oryx looks like

Arabian Oryx — one of the four species of antelope on earth. This is the smallest member of the oryx genus. They have a brown lateral line and a white tail ending in a black spot. Their faces, cheeks and throats have a dark brown, almost black flame that continues on their chest. Males and females have long, slender, almost straight, black horns. They reach 50 to 60 cm in length. With a weight of up to 90 kg, males weigh 10-20 kg more than females. Juveniles are born with brown coats that change as they mature. The herd of the Arabian oryx is small, only 8 to 10 individuals.

The Arabian oryx has a white coat with black facial markings, and its paws are dark brown to black in color. Its predominantly white coat reflects the heat of the sun in summer, and in winter, the hair on its back rises to attract and trap the heat of the sun. They have wide hooves for long distances on loose gravel and sand. Spear-like horns — a weapon used for defense and combat.

The Arabian oryx is uniquely adapted to life in the extremely arid peninsula. They inhabit gravel plains and sand dunes. Their wide hooves allow them to easily walk on the sand.

Fun fact: Since the skin of the Arabian oryx has no glare or reflections, they are very difficult to see even at a distance of 100 meters. They seem almost invisible.

Now you know what a white oryx looks like. Let's see where it lives in its natural environment.

Where does the Arabian oryx live?

Photo: Arabian oryx in the desert

Photo: Arabian oryx in the desert

This animal is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. In 1972, the Arabian oryx became extinct in the wild, but was rescued by zoos and private reserves, and reintroduced into the wild since 1980, and as a result, wild populations currently live in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, with ongoing additional reintroduction programs . It is likely that this range will extend to other countries in the Arabian Peninsula.

Most Arabian oryx lives in:

  • Saudi Arabia;
  • Iraq;
  • United Arab Emirates;
  • Oman;
  • Yemen;
  • Jordan;
  • Kuwait.

These countries make up the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian oryx can also be found in Egypt, which is west of the Arabian Peninsula, and Syria, which is north of the Arabian Peninsula.

Interesting fact: Arabian oryx lives in the desert and arid plains of Arabia, where temperatures can reach 50°C even in the shade in summer. This species is the most well adapted to life in deserts. Their white color reflects the heat of the desert and sunlight. On cold winter mornings, body heat is trapped in the thick undercoat to keep the animal warm. In winter, their paws darken, so they can absorb more heat from the sun.

Previously, the Arabian oryx was widespread, found throughout the Arabian and Sinai Peninsulas, in Mesopotamia and in the deserts of Syria. For centuries, it was only hunted during the cold season, because hunters could go days without water. Later, they started chasing them in a car and even chose planes and helicopters to find the animals in their hiding places. This wiped out the Arabian oryx, except for small groups in the Nafud Desert and the Rubal Khali Desert. In 1962, the Society for the Conservation of Fauna in London initiated “Operation Oryx” and introduced strict measures to protect it.

What does the Arabian oryx eat?

Photo: Arabian Oryx

Photo: Arabian Oryx

The Arabian oryx primarily feeds on grasses, as well as roots, tubers, bulbs, and melons. They drink water when they find it, but can survive for long periods of time without drinking as they can get all the moisture they need from foods like succulent bulbs and melons. They also get moisture from condensation left on rocks and vegetation after a heavy fog.

Life in the desert is hard because it's hard to find food and water. The Arabian oryx travels extensively to find new sources of food and water. Scientists say the animal seems to know where it's raining, even if it's far away. The Arabian oryx has adapted to go long periods without drinking water.

Fun Fact: The Arabian Oryx eats mostly at night when the plants are at their most succulent after absorbing the nighttime moisture. During periods of drought, the oryx will dig up roots and tubers to obtain the moisture it needs.

The Arabian oryx has several adaptations that allow it to remain independent of water sources during the summer by meeting its water needs from its food. For example, it spends the hot part of the day completely inactive under shady trees, transferring body heat to the ground to reduce evaporative water loss, and forages at night, choosing water-rich foods.

Metabolic analysis has shown that the adult Arabian oryx consumes 1.35 kg/day of dry matter (494 kg/year). These animals can have a negative impact on humans if their habitats overlap, as the Arabian oryx can consume agricultural plants.

Character and Lifestyle Features

Photo: Arabian Oryx Antelope

Photo: Arabian Oryx Antelope

Arabian Oryx — a gregarious species, it forms herds of 5 to 30 individuals and more if conditions are good. If conditions are poor, groups tend to consist only of males with a couple of females and their children. Some males live more solitary lives and hold larger territories. Within the herd, dominance hierarchies are created by displays of posturing that avoid serious injury due to long, sharp horns.

Such herds are likely to remain together for a significant amount of time. Oryx is very compatible with each other — the low frequency of aggressive interactions allows the animals to share individual shady trees under which they can spend 8 hours of daylight in the heat of summer.

These animals seem to be able to detect rains at a great distance and live an almost nomadic life as they travel over wide areas in search of precious new growth after occasional rains. They are active mainly in the early morning and late evening, resting in groups in the shade when the searing midday heat is present.

Interesting fact: Arabian oryx is able to smell rain from a distance. When the smell of the wind spreads down the wind, the lead female will lead her herd in search of fresh grass that the rain has brought.

On hot days, Arabian oryx carve shallow depressions under the bushes to rest and cool down. Their white skin also helps reflect heat. Their harsh environment can be unforgiving, and the Arabian oryx is prone to drought, disease, snake bites, and drowning.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Arabian Oryx Cubs

Photo: Arabian Oryx Cubs

Arabian Oryx — polygynous breeder. This means that one male mates with many females in one mating season. The timing of the birth of children varies. However, if conditions are favorable, a female may produce one calf per year. The female leaves the herd in order to give birth to a calf. Arabian oryx do not have a fixed mating season, so breeding occurs all year round.

Males fight for females using their horns, which can result in injury or even death. Most births in introduced herds in Jordan and Oman occur from October to May. The gestation period for this species lasts about 240 days. Juveniles are weaned at 3.5-4.5 months of age, and females in captivity give birth for the first time when they are 2.5-3.5 years old.

After 18 months of drought, females are less likely to become pregnant and may be unable to feed their calves. The sex ratio at birth is usually 50:50 (male:female). The calf is born with small horns covered with hair. Like all ungulates, he can get up and follow his mother when he is only a few hours old.

The mother often hides her young for the first two to three weeks while she is foraging before returning to the herd. The calf can feed on its own after about four months, remaining in the parent herd but no longer staying with its mother. The Arabian oryx reaches maturity at one to two years of age.

Natural enemies of the Arabian oryx

Photo: Male Arabian Oryx

Photo: Male Arabian Oryx

The main reason for the extinction of the Arabian oryx in the wild was overhunting, both by Bedouin hunting for meat and skins, and sport hunting by motorized units. Poaching of the newly introduced wild Arabian oryx has again become a major threat. At least 200 oryx have been taken or poached from the newly introduced wild Omani herd three years after poaching began there in February 1996.

The main predator of the Arabian oryx, besides humans — the Arabian wolf, which was once found throughout the Arabian Peninsula but now lives only in small areas in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Iraq and southern Israel, Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Because they prey on domestic animals, livestock owners poison, shoot, or capture wolves to protect their property. Jackals are the main predators of the Arabian oryx, which prey on its calves.

The long horns of the Arabian oryx are suitable for protection from predators (lions, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas). When threatened, the animal exhibits a unique behavior: it becomes sideways to appear larger. If this does not intimidate the enemy, Arabian oryxes use their horns for defense or attack. Like other antelopes, the Arabian oryx uses its speed to avoid predators. It can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h.

Population and species status

Photo: What an Arabian oryx looks like

Photo: What an Arabian oryx looks like

The Arabian oryx has become extinct in the wild due to hunting for its meat, hide and horns. World War II brought an influx of automatic rifles and high-speed vehicles to the Arabian Peninsula and this led to an unsustainable level of oryx hunting. By 1965, fewer than 500 Arabian oryx remained in the wild.

Captive herds were established in the 1950s and several were sent to the United States where a breeding program was developed. Today, more than 1,000 Arabian oryx have been released into the wild, and almost all of these animals are in protected areas.

This number includes:

  • about 50 oryx in Oman;
  • approximately 600 oryx in Saudi Arabia;
  • approximately 200 oryx in the United Arab Emirates;
  • more than 100 oryx in Israel;
  • about 50 oryx in Jordan.

An estimated 6,000-7,000 individuals are in captivity worldwide, most of them in the region. Some are in large enclosed enclosures, including those in Qatar, Syria (Al-Talilah Game Reserve), Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Arabian oryx was listed as “extinct” in the Red Book and then “critically endangered”. As soon as the population increased, they moved into the category of “endangered”, and then moved to the level where they could be called “vulnerable”. This is a really good conservation story. In general, the Arabian oryx is currently classified as vulnerable, but numbers remain stable today. The Arabian oryx continues to face many threats such as drought, habitat destruction and poaching.

Arabian Oryx Conservation

Photo: Arabian oryx from the Red Book

Photo: Arabian oryx from the Red Book

Arabian oryx is protected by law in all countries where it has been reintroduced. In addition, there is a well-established large population of the Arabian oryx in captivity, and they are listed on CITES Appendix I, which means that trade in these animals or any of their parts is illegal. However, this species remains threatened by illegal hunting, overgrazing and drought.

The return of the oryx is due to a broad alliance of conservation groups, governments and zoos that have worked to save the species by breeding a “world herd” — descendants of the last wild animals caught in the 1970s, as well as royals from the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

In 1982 conservationists began reintroducing small populations of Arabian oryx from this herd in captivity to protected areas where hunting is illegal. Although the release process was largely trial and error — for example, an entire population of animals died after one attempt in Jordan — scientists have learned a lot about the success of the reintroduction.

Thanks to this program, the Arabian oryx was upgraded to endangered status by 1986, and this species remained until the last update. Overall, the return of the oryx has been carried out by a collaborative conservation effort. Despite one or two attempts to keep it in its natural range, the survival of the Arabian oryx almost certainly depends on establishing a herd elsewhere. An important part of the Arabian oryx conservation success story is government support, funding and long-term commitment from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Arabian oryx — This is a species of antelope that lives on the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian oryx is one of the best desert-adapted large mammals, able to live in waterless habitats where few other species can survive. They can exist for weeks without water.

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