Gemsbok (Oryx gazella)
Order: Artiodactyla, Family: Bovidae
The gemsbok is the largest of the oryx, or long-horned antelopes.
Gemsbok have dramatic facial masks with halter-like markings paired with white patches. Black striping extends along the sides near the underbelly. A short mane runs from the head to the shoulders.
They range in color from buffy tan to brown. Males have a tuft of black hairs on the throat.
Horns, which can grow to 58.5 inches long, extend straight back from the head. The lower half are ringed. The female's horns tend to be more slender and longer than the male's.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
- The gemsbok is the largest of the oryx, or long-horned antelopes.
- Gemsbok have dramatic facial masks with halter-like markings paired with white patches. Black striping extends along the sides near the underbelly. A short mane runs from the head to the shoulders.
- They range in color from buffy tan to brown. Males have a tuft of black hairs on the throat.
- Horns, which can grow to 58.5 inches long, extend straight back from the head. The lower half are ringed. The female's horns tend to be more slender and longer than the male's.
- Their range extends from Ethiopia and Somalia to Namibia and eastern South Africa.
- They commonly inhabit arid areas, including dry steppe, brush and tree savannas in flat and hilly areas, as well as semidesert and desert.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
- Gemsbok feed on grasses and herbs, juicy roots, fruits, melons, leaves, buds and bulbs.
- They can go without water for several days but drink at streams and water holes when water is available. Oryx are experts at finding water and often dig into dried riverbeds to access ground water.
- In dry periods, gemsbok also dig up fruits and roots containing water.
V. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:
- Gregarious animals, gemsbok usually live in groups of 30 to 40 individuals, but they can be found in groups numbering in the hundreds during the wet season or migration.
- Herds usually consist of one dominant male with several females and sub-adults. Groups of bachelor herds also form, with established dominance hierarchies.
- Male-male interactions are aggressive but rarely result in bloodletting or severe injury. Gemsbok use their horns for "fencing" in these ritualized interactions, which occur most often at water holes when many individuals come together and space is often limited.
- Displays are also common where males show their size by standing broadside to one another with horns pointed over their shoulders toward the individual being threatened. Often males will defend small territories in which they attempt to mate with and control all the females.
- Females recognize no particular breeding season, but rather space births at 9-month intervals.
- Males often compete for mates, but females can refuse mating by running away and circling in the reversed position.
- Females give birth to one young at a time. Gestation lasts approximately eight and a half months, and young weigh between 20 and 33 pounds when born. Offspring are weaned after three and a half months, but do not reach sexual maturity until the ages of 1.5 and 2 years.
VI. POPULATION STATUS:
- Excessive hunting has wiped out many gemsbok populations.
- The gemsbok's natural enemies include lions, leopards, hunting dogs and hyenas. Cheetahs and jackals pose additional threats to young.
- No special status.
- Gemsbok are common in many parts of Africa. Recent estimates have placed the total gemsbok population at over 275,000. Although their numbers are relatively high, habitat loss, climatic changes, agriculture and grazing by domestic livestock continue to threaten the gemsbok.