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oryx (ôrˈĭks), 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 became extinct in the wild in the late 1980s, but a wild population is being reestablished from herds bred in captivity.
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.
(Oryx gazella beisa), an artiodactylic mammal, an East African subspecies of the oryx antelope. Both the males and females have long straight horns (to 1 m) that point backward. The basic body color is light reddish-brown, with black stripes on the head, sides, and extremities. Beisa inhabit the wide open plains of East Africa (to 20° N lat.). They are usually seen in pairs, occasionally in small herds. The period of gestation is about nine months. Beisa are hunted for their meat and hide; they are also an object of sport hunting. The number of beisa in many parts of their habitat has been sharply cut. Portrayals of beisa on ancient Egyptian monuments suggest that they (or perhaps another subspecies of the oryx, the saber horn antelope) were raised earlier in captivity or were tamed.