oryx

oryx ôr´ĭks [key], name for several small, horselike antelopes , genus Oryx, found in deserts and arid scrublands of Africa and Arabia. They feed on grasses and scrub and can go without water for long periods. Oryxes are light in color with dark patches on the face and legs. They have slight shoulder humps, tufted tails, and long, straight or slightly curved slender horns that point backward.

The gemsbok ( O. gazella ) is found in SW Africa. It is beige to brownish gray with brown to black markings a large male gemsbok stands more than 4 ft (120 cm) at the shoulder and weighs up to 450 lb (200 kg). The East African oryx, or beisa ( O. beisa ) is similar but smaller, with shorter horns. It is found from Ethiopia south to NE Tanzania, with the fringe-eared oryx subspecies in the southern part of the range. The scimitar, or scimitar-horned, oryx ( O. dammah ) is native to the N African deserts and has long, back-curved horns. It is white with chestnut markings and a dark tail. It is now extinct in the wild.

The Arabian, or white, oryx ( O. leucoryx ) is the smallest oryx, standing up to 40 in. (100 cm) high. It is white with dark brown and black markings. The Arabian oryxes once ranged over the deserts of SW Asia and were hunted by nomads for flesh and hides. However, they were nearly exterminated in the 20th cent. by hunting from automobiles, and survived only in zoos by the 1970s. Since 1982 a captive breeding program has successfully reintroduced them to first Oman and then other Middle Eastern countries.

The oryx is classified in the phylum Chordata , subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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