Creature Feature – Gemsbok

Oryx gazella

The Gemsbok range is in southern east Africa, in countries like Namibia, Botswana, and south Africa. Both grazing and ground condition influence seasonal migrations. They avoid tall grass in the rainy season, and thick bush in the dry season. Grasses are the main diet, but gemsbok will also browse Acacia and other shrubs in the absence of grass. During droughts they unearth tubers and roots with their hooves.

The gemsbok is the largest species of Oryx. They are 3-4 feet high, with straight swept-back horns measuring 2-3.6 feet long. Females have horns as long as, ore even longer than, males but more slender. The males weight around 460 pounds, and females around 350 pounds. The coat is grayish with black and white markings on their head and a black line down their throats and across their flanks. The legs are black on top with white below the knees and black patches on their shins. They live up to 22 years in captivity.

Gemsbok live in mixed herds that usually containing more females than males. Typical size can reach 60, but on rare occasions it can reach up to 200 members. There is always a dominant male and usually a second ranked male. All other males rank below any adult female. Female hierarchy is based on age or length of time in the herd. The herds are of closed membership, with strange adult females being repelled but submissive males more easily accepted.

The gemsbok’s future is secure as long as it continues to occur in large numbers on private land and protected areas in Southern Africa. About 45% of the population occurs on private land, especially in Namibia. About 35% live in protected parks and reserves in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. All of these populations are stable or increasing.

Interesting Facts:

  • Gemsbok have a lower water turnover rate than a camel.
  • Their hoof is large for its size and probably best adapted for firm or stony ground.
  • They are the only antelope species born with horns. The horns are visible at birth as hair covered bumps.
  • Some people suspect the legend of the unicorn originated with the gemsbok because of its incredible horns.
  • They can kill a lion with their spear-like horns.
  • They stage “tournaments” where several animals begin to run in circles around the herd with sudden spurts of galloping and high step pacing, interspersed with brief horn clashes.

Information courtesy of

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