Scimitar-horned Oryx

Oryx Dammah

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

The scimitar-horned oryx can go up to 10 months without drinking water


Scimitar-horned Oryx Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Oryx Dammah

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Scimitar-horned Oryx Conservation Status

Scimitar-horned Oryx Locations

Scimitar-horned Oryx Locations

Scimitar-horned Oryx Facts

Fun Fact
The scimitar-horned oryx can go up to 10 months without drinking water
Biggest Threat
Human hunting, loss of habitat
Desert and savanna woodlands
Lions, leopards, golden jackals, hyenas
  • Diurnal
  • nomadic
Common Name
Scimitar-horned oryx
Norther Africa
Believed to be the inspiration for unicorn myths!

Scimitar-horned Oryx Physical Characteristics

15-20 years
200 to 460 lbs

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The scimitar-horned oryx is thought to be the animal that inspired ancient unicorn myths

The scimitar-horned oryx is also known as the scimitar oryx or the Sahara oryx. It has been considered extinct in the wild since 2000, but conservationists are working to reintroduce them to their native habitats. It is a kind of antelope that is adapted for desert living, and the species used to be found in large numbers across all of Northern Africa.


Five Scimitar-horned Oryx Facts

  • The scimitar-horned oryx gets its name from its long, slender, backward-curving horns that resemble the curved blades of scimitar swords.
  • Scimitar oryx were domesticated by ancient Egyptians, and they would often bind the oryx horns together so that they would grow into a single horn. This is one reason experts think the scimitar oryx is the originator of the unicorn myth.
  • Scimitar-horned oryx can go many days without water, similar to camels.
  • Scimitar oryx can survive comfortably at an internal temperature of up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit or 47 degrees Celsius.
  • Scientists don’t know how long scimitar-horned oryx can live in the wild, but the oldest oryx in captivity died at the age of 21.

Scimitar-horned Oryx Scientific Name

The scimitar-horned oryx has undergone a long and interesting history of scientific names. Since 1956, its official scientific name has been Oryx dammah, but this came after centuries-long debate about nomenclature. In 1816, it was initially called Oryx algazel, but it has also been called Oryx tao, Oryx leucoryx, Oryx bezoarticus and Oryx ensicornis.

Oryx dammah is the name officially accepted by the International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature. The word “oryx” derives from the ancient Greek word meaning “gazelle,” and “dammah” is a derivative of the Arabic word dammar, which means sheep.


Scimitar-horned Oryx Appearance and Behavior

Both males and females have a thick white coat of fur with reddish-brown markings on the face and neck. Underneath the white fur, their skin is black. This combination is ideal for preventing sunburn and overheating because the white fur reflects much of the desert heat, and the black skin protects against sunburn.

Male and female scimitar-horned oryx grow to be just over 1 meter, or 3.3 feet, tall. Males can weigh up to 210 kilograms, or roughly 460 pounds. For reference, that’s almost as heavy as a fully grown pig. Females typically weigh 91-140 kilograms, or about 200-300 pounds, which is nearly as heavy as a panda bear.

From nose to tail, the average scimitar-horned oryx can measure between 140-240 centimeters, or about 4.5 to 7.5 feet long. This means that these animals can grow to be longer than a king-sized bed. Males are almost always larger than females.

Scimitar-horned oryx have large, broad hooves that help them easily navigate the desert sands, and their dense eyelashes and thick eyelids protect their eyes from sandstorms.

As the name suggests, male and female scimitar-horned oryx both have long, thin horns that curve backward. In fact, they are the only species of oryx with curved horns. These horns are ridged, sharply pointed and made up of tough, hollow bone. Their horns can grow to be up to 1.2 meters, or roughly 4 feet in length. It is important to note that their horns do not regrow if they break or become damaged.

The long, curved horns of this species are typically used for play sparring between males, but they are also used as a part of courtship.

One of the most interesting facts about the scimitar-horned oryx’s body is its ability to withstand high temperatures that would be lethal to other mammals. They are able to tolerate an internal body temperature of up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or 47 degrees Celcius, and this means that they do not sweat as much as other mammals. They are able to dissipate excess heat through their appendages, and they are also able to lower their internal body temperatures significantly at night when it’s cooler.

Scimitar-horned oryx prefer to live in large herds of up to 40 members and will wander and graze when in the wild.


Scimitar-horned Oryx Habitat

Scimitar-horned oryx can no longer be found in the wild, but they used to live in the desert and steppe regions of Northern Africa that included Niger, Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Sudan. They could be found most often in near the rim of the Sahara Desert in the savanna woodlands.

In addition to making desert living easier, the appearance of the scimitar-horned oryx is also perfect camouflage for hiding from predators in the sparse savanna regions.


Scimitar-horned Oryx Diet

The scimitar-horned oryx is considered a “coarse feeder,” and this means that herds of oryx would roam and graze on foliage, grasses, succulents, roots, shrubs, fruit and tubers. They would also get much of their water from fruits, tubers and juicy roots whenever they were available.

They were interestingly adapted to their desert habitats. Scimitar-horned oryx have the ability to select for foods that have a high water content, and they can detect even slight changes in ambient humidity, so they would frequently migrate long distances to reach water and more lush grazing areas. If no reliable water source is available, their kidneys can prevent water loss during urination. This combination of traits means that these oryx could survive up to 10 months without water.


Scimitar-horned Oryx Predators and Threats

When they were found in the wild, scimitar-horned oryx were hunted by predators such as lions, leopards, jackals and hyenas.

However, the biggest threat to the scimitar-horned oryx was and still is human hunting. Uncontrolled hunting and persistent regional warfare are two of the biggest reasons that these animals have been labeled as extinct in the wild since the 1980s. Habitat loss due to unrestricted domestic animal grazing and severe droughts also contributed to their endangered status.

Currently, scimitar-horned oryx are classified as “extinct in the wild.” There are conservation efforts underway, and there have been a few attempts to reintroduce small herds into specific conservation sites, but so far, these efforts have not been particularly successful over the long term.


Scimitar-horned Oryx Reproduction and Lifespan

Male and female scimitar-horned oryx reach sexual maturity around 18 months of age. Males are typically more sexually active in the autumn months, and they will court females by means of a “mating circle.” During this ritual, the male and female will stand next to each other facing opposite directions, and they will circle each other until the female permits him to mount her from behind.

Their birth season runs from March to October, and a female will typically give birth to a single calf after an eight-month gestation period. Calves typically weigh about 10 kilograms, or 22 pounds at birth, which is about as heavy as a fully grown dachshund.

When they are ready to give birth, pregnant females will leave the herd for a week and return to the herd hours after the birth. Calves can walk and see on their own, and they nurse with their mothers for the first few months of their lives. They will also form their own herds called creches within the main herd.

Baby oryx photo:

It is not known how long a scimitar-horned oryx can live in the wild, but they can live anywhere from 15 to 20 years in captivity.


Scimitar-horned Oryx Population

As of 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, commonly referred to as the IUCN, estimates that there are fewer than 1800 scimitar oryx left. There is currently an ongoing global breeding program to increase the numbers of scimitar-horned oryx that exist in captivity.

Scimitar-horned Oryx FAQ

How many scimitar-horned oryx are left?

Despite global conservation efforts and breeding programs, the IUCN has said that they believe there are no more than 1800 existing scimitar-horned oryx left in the world.

Are scimitar-horned oryx carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

Scimitar-horned oryx are herbivores.

What do scimitar-horned oryx eat

Scimitar-horned oryx are nomadic grazers, and their diet in the wilds of the Sahara Desert consisted of grasses, herbs, shrubs, succulents, fruits, tubers and anything that could provide ample water. In captivity, most scimitar oryx are fed enriched pellets and multiple types of grass, browse and flavored hay in order to keep their diets varied and interesting.

Will there ever be scimitar-horned oryx in the wild again?

The conservation efforts regarding scimitar-horned oryx are still going strong, and some reintroduction attempts have been made in Chad, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia. As it stands currently, there are no herds that the IUCN considers to be successfully reintroduced into the wild.

Why is the scimitar-horned oryx endangered?

The primary reasons that scimitar oryx are considered extinct in the wild now are as follows:

  • Uncontrolled hunting
  • Loss of habitat
  • Competition with domestic livestock

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Scimitar-horned Oryx FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Scimitar-horned Oryxs herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Scimitar-horned Oryxs are Herbivores, meaning they eat plants.

What Kingdom do Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to the family Bovidae.

What order do Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to the order Artiodactlya.

What genus do Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes belong to the genus Oryx.

Where do Scimitar-horned Oryxes live?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes live in northern Africa.

In what type of habitat do Scimitar-horned Oryexs live?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes live in deserts and savanna woodlands.

What are some predators of Scimitar-horned Oryxes?

Predators of Scimitar-horned Oryxes include lions, leopards, golden jackals, and hyenas.

What is an interesting fact about Scimitar-horned Oryxes?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes are believed to be the inspiration for unicorn myths!

What is the scientific name for the Scimitar-horned Oryx?

The scientific name for the Scimitar-horned Oryx is Oryx Dammah.

What is the lifespan of a Scimitar-horned Oryx?

Scimitar-horned Oryxes can live for 15 to 20 years.

What is the biggest threat to the Scimitar-horned Oryx?

The biggest threats to Scimitar-horned Oryxes are human hunting and loss of habitat.

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