Last updated

Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) male.jpg
Male gemsbok in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Status TNC G4.svg
Apparently Secure  (NatureServe) [2]
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Hippotraginae
Genus: Oryx
O. gazella
Binomial name
Oryx gazella
Gemsbok Oryx gazella distribution map.png
The natural range of the gemsbok [3]

Capra gazellaLinnaeus, 1758

The gemsbok or South African oryx (Oryx gazella) is a large antelope in the genus Oryx . It is native to the extremely dry, arid regions of Southern Africa; notably, the Kalahari and Namib Desert. Some authorities formerly classified the East African oryx (Oryx beisa) as a subspecies.



The name gemsbok is from Afrikaans, which itself is from the Dutch word of the same spelling, meaning "male chamois", composed of gems (“chamois”) + bok (“buck, male goat”). [4] The Dutch gems is further from German Gämse ("chamois"). [5] Although some superficial similarities in appearance (especially in the facial pattern) are noticed, the chamois and the oryx are not closely related. The usual pronunciation in English is /ˈɡɛmzbɒk/ . [6]


Gemsbok are light taupe to tan in color, with lighter patches toward the bottom rear of the rump. Their tails are long and black in color. A blackish stripe extends from the chin down the lower edge of the neck, through the juncture of the shoulder and leg along the lower flank of each side to the blackish section of the rear leg. They have muscular necks and shoulders, and their legs have white 'socks' with a black patch on the front of both the front legs, and both sexes have long, straight horns. Comparably, the East African oryx lacks a dark patch at the base of the tail, has less black on the legs (none on the hindlegs), and less black on the lower flanks. One very rare color morph is the "golden oryx", in which the gemsbok's black markings are muted and appear to be golden.

Gemsbok are the largest species in the genus Oryx . They stand about 1.2 m (4 ft) at the shoulder. [7] [8] The body length can vary from 190 to 240 cm (75 to 94 in) and the tail measures 45 to 90 cm (18 to 35 in). [9] Male gemsbok can weigh between 180 and 240 kg (400 and 530 lb), while females weigh 100–210 kg (220–460 lb).


Portrait in Etosha National Park, Namibia Oryx gazella - Etosha 2014.jpg
Portrait in Etosha National Park, Namibia

Gemsbok are widely hunted for their spectacular horns that average 85 cm (33 in) in length. From a distance, the only outward difference between males and females is their horns, and many hunters mistake females for males each year. In males horns tend to be thicker with larger bases. Females have slightly longer, thinner horns.

Female gemsbok use their horns to defend themselves and their offspring from predators, while males primarily use their horns to defend their territories from other males. [10]

Gemsbok are one of the few antelope species where female trophies are sometimes more desirable than male ones. A gemsbok horn can be fashioned into a natural trumpet and, according to some authorities, can be used as a shofar . [11]

Distribution and habitat

Gemsbok are found in arid and semi-arid bushlands in southwestern Africa, especially around the Namib and Kalahari deserts, in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and formerly Angola (where they are considered extirpated). [1]

Drinking with a group of helmeted guineafowl in the foreground Oryx gazella (Chudop).jpg
Drinking with a group of helmeted guineafowl in the foreground

Ecology and biology

Gemsbok live in herds of about 10–40 animals, which consist of a dominant male, a few nondominant males, and females. They are mainly desert-dwelling and do not depend on drinking water to supply their physiological needs. They can reach running speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph). Gemsbok are mostly crepuscular in nature, since temperatures are tolerable and predator detection rates are highest during these times.


The gemsbok is generally a grazer but changes to browsing during the dry season or when grass is sparse. It may dig up to a meter deep to find roots and tubers, supplementing its water intake by eating wild tsamma melons and cucumbers, which can provide all the water required (3 liters per 100 kg bodyweight and day). [12]


Three-day-old fawn Oryx gazella 3 - Gemsbok cub.JPG
Three-day-old fawn
Oryx at Sesriem entrance in Namib Desert Orice a Sossusvlei.jpg
Oryx at Sesriem entrance in Namib Desert
Mother and calf at the Buffalo Zoo Baby Gemsbok - Buffalo Zoo.jpg
Mother and calf at the Buffalo Zoo

The gemsbok is polygynous, with one resident male mating with the receptive females in the herd. The male is known to secure exclusive mating access to the females by attempting to herd mixed or nursery herds onto his territory. The gemsbok has no specified breeding season, but the young in a given herd tend to be of a similar age due to reproductive synchrony between females. Pregnant females leave the herd before giving birth. The gestation period lasts 270 days and mothers give birth to 12 offspring. The calf remains hidden 6 weeks after birth, after which mother and calf rejoin the herd. The calf is weaned at 3+12 months, becomes independent at 4+12 months, and achieves sexual maturity at 1+12–2 years in both sexes. [12]

Buck on the Jornada del Muerto trail north of Upham, New Mexico, USA 2832oryxIMGP3559.jpg
Buck on the Jornada del Muerto trail north of Upham, New Mexico, USA

Introduction to North America

In 1969, the New Mexico State Department of Game and Fish decided to introduce gemsbok to the Tularosa Basin, New Mexico, in the United States. [13] Ninety-three were released from 1969 to 1977, with the current population estimated to be around 3,000 individuals. [14] Gradually expanding their range from Tularosa Basin towards the west and northwest, an unknown number of animals are now also established in the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, the Jornada Biosphere Reserve as well as the endorheic drainage basins east of Caballo Mountains, especially where these are traversed by the Jornada del Muerto trail north of Upham.

Potential invasive status

The inherent biology of gemsbok makes them a potential invasive species in New Mexico. As they are capable of year-round breeding, the transplanted population thrives in the presence of absence of their natural predators, such as the lion (Panthera leo), spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and leopard (Panthera pardus). Except for calves, the oryx is too large to be preyed on by the coyote (Canis latrans) and most other major American desert carnivores, since the jaguar (Panthera onca) is mostly extirpated from the state, and the reintroduced Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is too low in population numbers (and all known Mexican wolf populations are over 100 miles away). The species is therefore primarily managed by regulated hunting. [15] [16] However, the only North American predator that regularly takes gemsbok is the cougar (Puma concolor); for only one individual, 29 gemsbok were hunted, with the species making up 58% of recorded kills (most consisting of newborns, but some adults were also shown to have been killed). [17]

Additionally, New Mexico gemsbok seem to prefer undisturbed grasslands for feeding, putting pressure on grassland ecosystems already threatened by climate change and encroachment by shrubs. This fact, along with their larger size and potentially dangerous horns, may cause them to outcompete with and/or put pressure on not only local livestock operations, but native desert herbivores, such as the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). In addition, gemsbok may spread disease to fellow bovids like the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). [17]

Significance to humans

The gemsbok is depicted on the coat of arms of Namibia, [18] where the current population of the species is estimated at 373,000 individuals. [1] In the town of Oranjemund, resident gemsbok wander freely around the streets, taking advantage of the vegetation in the town, such as the grass in parks, road medians, and browsing on low branches of the many trees.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Springbok</span> Antelope of southwest and south Africa

The springbok or springbuck is a medium-sized antelope found mainly in south and southwest Africa. The sole member of the genus Antidorcas, this bovid was first described by the German zoologist Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann in 1780. Three subspecies are identified. A slender, long-legged antelope, the springbok reaches 71 to 86 cm at the shoulder and weighs between 27 and 42 kg. Both sexes have a pair of black, 35-to-50 cm (14-to-20 in) long horns that curve backwards. The springbok is characterised by a white face, a dark stripe running from the eyes to the mouth, a light-brown coat marked by a reddish-brown stripe that runs from the upper fore leg to the buttocks across the flanks like the Thomson's gazelle, and a white rump flap.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antelope</span> Term referring to an even-toed ruminant

The term antelope is used to refer to many species of even-toed ruminant that are indigenous to various regions in Africa and Eurasia.

<i>Oryx</i> Genus of mammals (large antelopes)

Oryx is a genus consisting of four large antelope species called oryxes. Their pelage is pale with contrasting dark markings in the face and on the legs, and their long horns are almost straight. The exception is the scimitar oryx, which lacks dark markings on the legs, only has faint dark markings on the head, has an ochre neck, and has horns that are clearly decurved.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chamois</span> Species of antelope

The chamois or Alpine chamois is a species of goat-antelope native to mountains in Europe, from west to east, including the Alps, the Dinarides, the Tatra and the Carpathian Mountains, the Balkan Mountains, the Rila–Rhodope massif, Pindus, the northeastern mountains of Turkey, and the Caucasus. The chamois has also been introduced to the South Island of New Zealand. Some subspecies of chamois are strictly protected in the EU under the European Habitats Directive.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">African buffalo</span> Bovine species

The African buffalo is a large sub-Saharan African bovine. There are five subspecies that are recognized as being valid. Syncerus caffer caffer, the Cape buffalo, is the nominotypical subspecies, and the largest one, found in Southern and East Africa. S. c. nanus is the smallest subspecies, common in forest areas of Central and West Africa, while S. c. brachyceros is in West Africa and S. c. aequinoctialis is in the savannas of East Africa. The adult African buffalo's horns are its characteristic feature: they have fused bases, forming a continuous bone shield across the top of the head referred to as a "boss". It is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous animals on the African continent, and according to some estimates it gores, tramples, and kills over 200 people every year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Addax</span> Species of antelope native to the Sahara

The addax, also known as the white antelope and the screwhorn antelope, is an antelope native to the Sahara Desert. The only member of the genus Addax, it was first described scientifically by Henri de Blainville in 1816. As suggested by its alternative name, the pale antelope has long, twisted horns – typically 55 to 80 cm in females and 70 to 85 cm in males. Males stand from 105 to 115 cm at the shoulder, with females at 95 to 110 cm. They are sexually dimorphic, as the females are smaller than the males. The colour of the coat depends on the season – in the winter, it is greyish-brown with white hindquarters and legs, and long, brown hair on the head, neck, and shoulders; in the summer, the coat turns almost completely white or sandy blonde.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Greater kudu</span> Species of woodland antelope

The greater kudu is a large woodland antelope, found throughout eastern and southern Africa. Despite occupying such widespread territory, they are sparsely populated in most areas due to declining habitat, deforestation, and poaching. The greater kudu is one of two species commonly known as kudu, the other being the lesser kudu, T. imberbis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Common eland</span> Second largest antelope in the world

The common eland, also known as the southern eland or eland antelope, is a large-sized savannah and plains antelope found in East and Southern Africa. It is a species of the family Bovidae and genus Taurotragus. An adult male is around 1.6 m (5.2 ft) tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 942 kg (2,077 lb) with a typical range of 500–600 kg (1,100–1,300 lb), 340–445 kg (750–981 lb) for females). It is the second-largest antelope in the world, being slightly smaller on average than the giant eland. It was scientifically described by Peter Simon Pallas in 1766.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Giant eland</span> An open-forest and savanna antelope of the family Bovidae

The giant eland, also known as the Lord Derby's eland and greater eland, is an open-forest and savanna antelope. A species of the family Bovidae and genus Taurotragus, it was described in 1847 by John Edward Gray. The giant eland is the largest species of antelope, with a body length ranging from 220–290 cm (87–114 in). There are two subspecies: T. d. derbianus and T. d. gigas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sable antelope</span> Species of mammal

The sable antelope is a large antelope which inhabits wooded savanna in East and Southern Africa, from the south of Kenya to South Africa, with a separated population in Angola.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">East African oryx</span> Species of mammal

The East African oryx, also known as the beisa, is a species of medium-sized antelope from East Africa. It has two subspecies: the common beisa oryx found in steppe and semidesert throughout the Horn of Africa and north of the Tana River, and the fringe-eared oryx south of the Tana River in southern Kenya and parts of Tanzania. The species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scimitar oryx</span> Species of oryx

The scimitar oryx, also known as the scimitar-horned oryx and the Sahara oryx, is a Oryx species that was once widespread across North Africa. In 2000, it was declared extinct in the wild on the IUCN Red List.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arabian oryx</span> Species of antelope

The Arabian oryx or white oryx is a medium-sized antelope with a distinct shoulder bump, long, straight horns, and a tufted tail. It is a bovid, and the smallest member of the genus Oryx, native to desert and steppe areas of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian oryx was extinct in the wild by the early 1970s, but was saved in zoos and private reserves, and was reintroduced into the wild starting in 1980.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nile lechwe</span> Species of antelope

The Nile lechwe or Mrs Gray's lechwe is an endangered species of antelope found in swamps and grasslands in Sudan and Ethiopia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mountain gazelle</span> Species of mammal

The mountain gazelle, also called the true gazelle or the Palestine mountain gazelle, is a species of gazelle widely but unevenly distributed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomson's gazelle</span> Species of gazelle

Thomson's gazelle is one of the best known species of gazelles. It is named after explorer Joseph Thomson and is sometimes referred to as a "tommie". It is considered by some to be a subspecies of the red-fronted gazelle and was formerly considered a member of the genus Gazella within the subgenus Eudorcas, before Eudorcas was elevated to genus status.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dama gazelle</span> Species of mammal

The dama gazelle, also known as the addra gazelle or mhorr gazelle, is a species of gazelle. It lives in Africa, in the Sahara desert and the Sahel. A critically endangered species, it has disappeared from most of its former range due to overhunting and habitat loss, and natural populations only remain in Chad, Mali, and Niger. Its habitat includes grassland, shrubland, semi-deserts, open savanna and mountain plateaus. Its diet includes grasses, leaves, shoots, and fruit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tragelaphini</span> Tribe of antelopes

The tribe Tragelaphini, or the spiral-horned antelopes, are bovines that are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. These include the bushbucks, kudus, and the elands. The scientific name is in reference to the mythical creature the tragelaph, a Chimera with the body of a stag and the head of a goat. They are medium-to-large, tall, long-legged antelopes characterized by their iconic twisted horns and striking pelage coloration patterns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">San Andres National Wildlife Refuge</span>

The San Andres National Wildlife Refuge is located in the southern San Andres Mountains of southcentral New Mexico, USA. The refuge, which lies within the northernmost extension of the Chihuahuan Desert, has elevations ranging from 4,200 feet (1,300 m) to 8,239 feet (2,511 m) feet. Refuge habitats vary from creosote and Chihuahuan desert grasslands in the bajadas to pinyon-juniper woodlands at higher elevations. A few springs, seeps, and seasonal streams provide water for wildlife and riparian habitats in the refuge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fringe-eared oryx</span> Subspecies of East African oryx

The fringe-eared oryx, is a large species or subspecies of oryx antelope native to east Africa.


  1. 1 2 3 IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2020). "Oryx gazella". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2020: e.T15573A166485425. doi: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-1.RLTS.T15573A166485425.en . Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. "NatureServe Explorer 2.0".
  3. IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) 2008. Oryx gazella. In: IUCN 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". Archived from the original on 2014-06-27. Retrieved 2014-06-27.. Downloaded on 14 July 2015.
  4. "Gemsbok, n." Dictionary of South African English. Dictionary Unit for South African English, 2018. 25 February 2019.
  5. "Zoekresultaten". Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  6. "Gemsbok". Retrieved on 2013-10-10.
  7. Oryx Gemsbok. Zoo la Boissière-du-Doré
  8. Oryx gemsbok – Fiche détaillée – Les mammifères. Tous vos animaux. Retrieved on 2013-10-10.
  9. Gemsbok videos, photos and facts – Oryx gazella Archived 2012-08-21 at the Wayback Machine . ARKive. Retrieved on 2013-10-10.
  10. Matign System.
  11. Hearing Shofar: Making a Gemsbok Shofar. (2010-01-01). Retrieved on 2013-10-10.
  12. 1 2 Sanders, S. "Oryx gazella". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Animal Diversity Web.
  13. CHAPTER SIX: A BRAVE NEW WORLD: WHITE SANDS AND THE CLOSE OF THE 20th CENTURY, 1970–1994. US National Park Service. Retrieved on 2013-10-10.
  14. Bender, Louis; Morrow, Patrick; Weisenberger, Mara; Krueger, Bryce (2019). "Population Dynamics and Control of Exotic South African Oryx in the Chihuahuan Desert, South-central New Mexico". Human–Wildlife Interactions. 13 (1): 158–166. doi: 10.26076/dbdm-9c32 .
  15. Exotic Animal Management (African Oryx). US National Park Service. Retrieved on 2013-10-10.
  16. "San Andres NWR Oryx Population Reduction webpage".
  17. 1 2 Kobilinsky, Dana (9 March 2023). "Rising oryx numbers may distress New Mexico ecosystem". The Wildlife Society. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  18. "National Symbols". Government of Namibia. Retrieved 2015-05-09.