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Arabian Oryx

Arabian OryxOryx leucoryx

Status: Endangered
Listed: June 2, 1970
Family: Bovidae (Bovine)
Description: Smallest Oryx species; white with black stockings; black face markings and black cheek stripes; two long, slender horns.
Habitat: Flat plains of gravel and stone fringing the sand desert.
Food: Grasses, herbs, roots, fruits, melons, leaves.
Reproduction: One calf per season after a gestation period of nine months.
Threats: Introduction of sheep and goats, agricultural development, and sport hunting.
Range: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Oman.

Description

The Arabian oryx, Oryx leucoryx, is the smallest of all Oryx species. It is white over its entire body with black below the knees and black markings on the face. The fur around the eye is black; cheek stripes are black. These cheek stripes widen to the jaw angle. Oryx are about 63 inches long with a 17.8- to 23.6-inch-long tail. The Arabian oryx stands about 43.3-49.3 inches at the shoulders and weighs from 121 to 150 pounds. Both sexes possess two long, back-curving, slender horns that grow to 29 inches long.

Some taxonomists regard all species of the genera Oryx as subspecies of Oryx gazella. This classification is not considered valid. O. leucoryx, is commonly known as the white oryx.

Behavior

The Arabian oryx feeds on grasses, herbs, roots, fruits, melons, leaves, and other available vegetation. Oryx drink water whenever it is available, however, if necessary, this species can go several days without water. During the hottest parts of the day, the Arabian oryx may scrape out a shallow depression under a bush or shaded area to rest.

The Arabian oryx is probably found in herds of 2-20 individuals. Oryx are considered gregarious. Dominant, older males remain solitary. Pairs can be observed during mating season.

The dominant male marks his territory by defecating after pawing the ground. Another ritualistic behavior is displayed by the female. If the female is not ready to mate, she will run away from the male and circle in the reverse parallel position.

Fighting patterns of oryx are the typical antelope fencing, an exchange of diagonally downward blows. The oryx will frequently go down to its knees during these confrontations. Gestation lasts about nine months, after which one white, 20- to 33-pound calf is born. The calf is weaned after 3.5 months. Sexual maturity is reached at 2.5-3 years.

Habitat

The Arabian oryx inhabits rocky deserts, dunes, and other arid habitats including barren steppes, semideserts, and deserts. Oryx habitat has been described as a flat plain of gravel and stone that fringes the sand desert of the Arabian Peninsula. This area is known as the "jol."

Distribution

The Arabian oryx was once wide-ranging throughout the Levant, Arabia, and Iraq, but by 1972 the last specimen had been taken from the wild. Captive-bred individuals have been reintroduced into reserves in Jordan, Oman, and Israel. The Arabian oryx is also held in several zoos in Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Threats

Threats include agricultural development and introduced sheep and goats that compete with the Arabian oryx for food.

This fleet-footed animal was a great match for camel-mounted Bedouin hunters, even if they were armed with guns. The Arabian oryx was extremely pressured by motorized hunting, however. Fleets of vehicles could be observed carrying hunters and supplies; these hunters would shoot anything in sight. It is believed that the last wild specimen (prior to reintroduction) was killed in 1972.

Conservation and Recovery

Captive breeding programs initiated in the 1960s brought this wild oryx from the very brink of extinction to a population viable enough to be successfully reintroduced.

Source: Beacham's Guide to International Endangered Species, Gale Group. 1998.

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