An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Bovidae
          Subfamily: Hippotraginae
            Genus: Oryx

Oryx dammah

      Scimitar-horned oryx


Oryx dammah [Cretzschmar, 1827].  
Citation: In Rüppell, Atlas Reise Nordl. Afr., Zool., Säugheth., p. 22.
Type locality: Sudan, Haraza, "probably Kordofan."

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 160-175 cm / 5.3-5.8 ft.
Shoulder Height: 110-125 cm / 3.6-4.1 ft.
Tail Length: 60 cm / 2 ft.
Weight: 180-200 kg / 395-440 lb.

The coat is white with the neck and chest a bright russet.  There may be a light wash of russet over the flanks and thighs. The facial mask consists of vertical russet stripes which pass through the eyes and a wide reddish nose strip.  There is a faint ruddy flank stripe.  The long, tufted tail is dark brown on the outer half.  The most distinctive feature are the two scimitar or sickle-shaped horns.  Found in both sexes, these virtually ridgeless, thin horns curve up and over the back, growing 100-125 cm / 3.3-4.2 feet in length.  Because of their thinness, the horns are fairly fragile and are prone to breaking.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 8-8.5 months.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: At 3.5 months
Sexual Maturity: At 1.5-2 years.
Life span: Up to 20 years.

While the scimitar-horned oryx is an opportunistic breeder, births peak in March and October.  Within hours after birth, both mothers and calves return to the main herd.

Ecology and Behavior

The scimitar-horned oryx is extremely gregarious, and there is a distinct reluctance in individuals to remain solitary.  During the wet season, herds migrate north into the Sahara, returning south as the dry season approaches.  They have numerous physiological adaptations to desert life which allow them to go without drinking water for weeks (or possibly even months).  Specialized kidneys prevent excess loss of water through urine, while perspiration is minimized by raising body temperature to a maximum of 46.5o C (116o F).  Up to this temperature, there is a normal flow of heat from the body to the environment without a loss of water.  Only after this point does it start to perspire.

Family group: Mixed herds of up to 70 individuals.  Formerly thousands of animals would group for migration.
Diet: Grasses, fruit, leaves.
Main Predators: Lion, leopard, hyena, Cape hunting dog.


Grassy steppes, semi-deserts, and deserts in a narrow strip of central north Africa (Niger & Chad).

Range Map (Redrawn from IEA, 1998)

Conservation Status

The scimitar-horned oryx is considered critically endangered by the IUCN (1996).


Because of their magnificent horns, these oryx have been hunted to the edge of extinction.  They once roamed throughout the Sahara desert, but are now restricted to a few small, isolated pockets.  Orux (Greek) a gazelle or antelope.  Damma (Latin) a fallow deer, an antelope, also dammar (Arabic) a sheep.

Literature Cited

Alden, P. C., R. D. Estes, D. Schlitter, and B. McBride.  1995.  National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife.  New York: Chanticleer Press.

IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology).  1998.  Oryx dammah.  In African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals Vol 1 and 2.  Bruxelles: European Commission Directorate.  Available online at

Kingdon, J.  1997.  The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.  Academic Press, London and New York: NaturalWorld.

Walther, F. R. 1990.  Roan and Sable Antelopes.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 437-447.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

Return to Artiodactyla

© Brent Huffman,
All rights reserved.
Questions or comments? Click here