The graceful Arabian Oryx is not only among the largest desert animals of the Arab region but is one of the rarest animals on earth. Among the four species of oryx, the Arabian Oryx is the smallest.
The Arabian Oryx is an antelope that has evolved to its harsh environment in response to the intense solar heat of the deserts and gravel plains of the Middle East where these animals make their home. The bright white coat reflects the suns rays, keeping the animals cooler even during the hottest part of the day. Their dark legs, in contrast, absorb heat during the bitter chill of desert mornings. Their hooves are splayed and shovel-like, providing a large surface area with which to walk on the sandy ground.
Because the skin of Arabian Oryx lacks glare and reflection, it is very difficult to spot them even at a distance of over 100 yards. At that distance they seem almost invisible. Oryx also possess a very unusual circulation system to cool their blood in their heads, very helpful for desert dwellers.
Graceful and powerful, both male and female oryx possess straight, ringed horns as long as 27 inches; the female’s are thinner and longer than those of the male. Oryx have been known to kill lions with their lethal horns. Because of this, they are known as ‘saber antelope’. These horns play an important role when adult males engage in battle to establish their hierarchy determining the dominate male among a herd.
The mythical unicorn may have originated in part from the Arabian oryx because, when viewed in profile, they appear to have only one horn.
Due to their social nature, Abrarian Oryx usually live in large herds that can have as many as 100 members.
Arabian Oryx are active mostly during the early morning and late evening, resting in the shade when the midday heat is at its most intense. Using their hooves, oryx dig shallow depressions in the ground so they can lie in cooler sand, surrounded with bushes and shrubs which provide some protection against the fierce desert winds.
These remarkable creatures have adapted to their environment surviving the inhospitable climate and sparse availability of food due to its ability to go without water for a prolonged period of time; this ability can only be rivaled by that of the camel.
In the 1930’s, Arabian princes and oil company employees began hunting the Arabian oryx with automobiles and rifles. The hunts grew in size to the point that by the middle of the 20th century were effectively extinct. The last Arabian oryx in the wild was killed by poachers in 1972.
It was due to the efforts of captive breeding that succeeded in preserving the species. Wildwood Wildlife Park is proud to be part of the effective conservation efforts of captive breeding and reintroduction. Wild populations of Arabian Oryx now live in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Oman. The population is still fragile due to high mortality in the harsh environment.
In 1986 the oryx was classified as endangered and in 2011 it was the first animal to revert to vulnerable status after being listed as extinct in the wild. In 2011 populations were estimated at over 1,000 individuals in the wild and 6,000-7,000 individuals in zoos and wildlife preserves worldwide. The Arabian oryx is one of the most successful stories of conservation recovery.