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Wildlife Wednesday: Scimitar-Horned Oryx

Wildlife Wednesday: Scimitar-Horned Oryx

Scimitar-horned oryxes are one African animal that we should really, really be rooting for. Learn why on this Wildlife Wednesday.

There’s no denying that these furry nomads have an impressive rack of horns. Long, slender, and gently curved, these horns are the reason that the animals are named after the classic Arabian sword.

Unfortunately, neither name nor horns have been able to protect this particular oryx subspecies. In 2008, they were classified as extinct in the wild by IUCN; the only remaining animals are kept in zoos, private collections, and protected enclosures.


Scimitar-horned oryxes were once common in the semideserts of many North African countries, including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, and Sudan.


Camels, it seems, aren’t the only ruminants well adapted to desert life. Scimitar-horned oryxes also have a few tricks up their proverbial sleeves.

  • Their pale coats help reflect the heating rays of the sun; the russet red marks, on the other hand, help protect against sunburn.
  •  To avoid getting a little too hot headed, they have a network of tiny blood vessels that run past nasal passages before supplying the brain with blood. This little detour cools the blood by up to 5 F (3 C).
  • Like other oryxes, these particular herbivores can sense rainfall from miles away and will travel up to 50 miles (80 km) in order to munch on sweet, sweet freshly budding vegetation that often follows a downpour.
  • When oryxes’ body temperature rises, it’s not because of a fever—it’s a way to reduce sweating and conserve water. As a matter of fact, they can raise their body temperature up to 116 F (47 C).

How did they go extinct in the wild?

A series of unfortunate and not-always-accidental events conspired against these big-horned herd members, cutting back their numbers until the last wild oryxes died out sometime in the 90s.

The animals are prized for their horns, pelts, and meat, leading to overhunting that went unchecked throughout much of their old range. Competition with domestic livestock for food and water, and climate change causing drought also played roles in their downfall.

Scimitar-horned oryxes may have fallen, but they’re not down for the count just yet. A major conservation effort—headed by the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF)—is underway to reintroduce a number of the oryxes bred and raised in zoos and other managed sanctuaries.

Beginning in late 2014 or early 2015, herds of up to 100 animals will be acclimatized and then released into their historic range; the SCF’s first major goal is to have about 500 oryxes roaming Northern Africa.

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