The 21st of May 2021 is observed as Endangered Species Day, and to mark the occasion we’re featuring a very special antelope, the Scimitar-horned Oryx, which is officially classified as extinct in the wild.
Naturally the Scimitar-horned Oryx occurred in a band across the Sahel and Sahara from Senegal and Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, and also in the countries along Africa’s Mediterranean coast from Morocco to Egypt. Sadly however, these beautiful antelope were driven to extinction in their native haunts by overhunting and competition with livestock and haven’t been seen in the wild since the early 1990’s. That we have any left today is thanks to zoos and game farms all over the world, including here in South Africa – it is estimated that there are at least 15,000 oryx in these collections stemming from a captive breeding programme initiated in the 1960’s. Most excitingly, attempts are currently being made to reintroduce the species to reserves in Chad, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia sourcing animals from these facilities.
In their natural distribution range Scimitar-horned Oryx lived nomadically in herds usually numbering between 12 and 70, though larger congregations were not unheard of. They inhabited the semi-desert ecotone surrounding the Sahara, moving into the true desert only when periods of exceptional rainfall resulted in good grass cover there. They’re predominantly grazers but also feed on herbs and leaves, and are independent of open water for drinking, being very well adapted to hot and dry environments. Cows give birth to single calves at any time of year, following an 8 month gestation. Adults stand about 1.2m high at the shoulder, with their graceful horns growing to that same length! At up to 210kg, bulls are bulkier than the cows which weigh up to 140kg.