Oryx gazella - The Gemsbok

The Gemsbok is a large antelope of striking appearance with long, spearlike horns. It has a thick, horselike neck with a short mane and a compact, muscular body. A defined pattern of black markings that contrast with the white face and fawn-colored body are prominently displayed in dominance rituals to emphasize the length of horns and strength of the shoulder.

Did you know? The most distinctive features of the heavily built gemsbok are its long, rapier-shaped horns and striking black and white facial markings.

The head is marked with black triangular patches and broad black stripes that extend from the base of the horns over the eyes to the cheeks. A ring of black encircles the throat and runs down the neck to the chest. The ears end in a black tip (a black tassel hangs from the ear tip of the fringe-eared oryx).

A narrow black stripe runs along the spine, and another one separates the lower flank from the white underparts of the body. The white forelegs have a black ring above the knee and a black patch below. The black tail tassel reaches to the hocks.

The oryx's ringed horns are up to 30 inches long, making them formidable weapons. The female's horns are often longer and thinner than the male's.


Gemsbok stand approximately 1.2 m at the shoulder.


Males weigh between 220-300 kg and females weigh 100-200 kgs.


Originally, various oryx species were found in all of Africa's arid regions. One species that occurred on the Arabian Peninsula was exterminated recently but has now been reintroduced into the wild from captive stock. Well adapted to the conditions of their hot, arid habitats, oryx can live as long as 20 years.


See this elegant antelope at the Kruger National Park (in Mpumalanga, almost five hours from Johannesburg), Camdeboo National Park which borders Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, Langjan Nature Reserve in Limpopo (90 minutes from Polokwane), and Mapungubwe National Park, which is also in Limpopo and about 5.5 hours from Johannesburg and Pretoria. The gemsbok, or oryx, is a real treat to observe.

Diet - Herbivores

Oryx typically feed in early morning and late afternoon and sometimes on moonlit nights. Their diets consists mainly of coarse grasses and browse from thorny shrubs. In desert areas they consume thick leaved plants, wild melons, as well as roots and tubers they dig out of the ground. Gemsbock may drink if water is available but can survive days or even weeks without it.

Plants growing in arid areas inhabited by oryx have also adapted to the hot, dry conditions and either store water or have mechanisms to prevent excess loss. Plants collect dew, gradually releasing it during the hotter parts of the day. Some plants increase their water content by 25 to 40 percent, so when oryx feed late at night or early in the morning, it provides them with both food and water.


Gemsbok are gregarious animals congregating in groups of 50 to 200, although the average number is 14. In larger groups you will usually find more females than males, but herds are mixed. A large proportion of males remain solitary and defend a territory. Several hundred eland sometimes gather, and males may spend a few hours or even weeks with a female group before becoming solitary again.


The female comes into heat soon after giving birth. The more frequent estrus cycles enable females to produce calves at 9-month intervals.


Gestation is 8.5 months.

Life Expectancy

18 years in the wild, up to 20 years in captivity.


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  • Spotted hyenas

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