Gemsbok: How does it live without water?
The giant Oryx, or Gemsbok, as he is more commonly known is a large antelope native to the Kalahari who has adapted to live in this hot, dry area. This antelope is most definitely a desert specialist.
With their long spear like horns and striking coloring species make it a favorite with trophy hunters. Although their numbers have dropped as their habitats decreased and hunting increased efforts made in the last 20 years is seeing them re-introduced into wild as well as in private sanctuaries.
How Nikela Helps
Although Nikela does not have a project that directly protects the Gemsbok many awareness campaigns address the plight of Africa’s endangered and threatened wildlife species as a whole. Actually Nikela is for preserving all wild things and their wild places.
Information About Gemsbok
Distribution & habitat
The Gemsbok Oryx have adapted to waterless wastelands uninhabitable by most large mammals. They are equally at home in both the dry grasslands and the desert plains. They range over the sand dunes and climb the mountains to visit springs and salt licks. They originally were found throughout the Kalahari and Karro and in the adjoining regions of South Africa and marginally in south-west Angola. As human activities during the 19th and 20th expanded their range contracted and their numbers declined to the point they were considered to be exterminated in Angola. Over the last 10 to 20 years they are being re-introduced into wild or kept in private sanctuaries and preserves.
The Gemsbok is a large light brown antelope of striking black and white markings on the face and legs and black side stripes. These markings are prominently displayed. It has a thick, horse like neck with a short mane, a compact, muscular body. And a long flowing horse-like tail that reaches to their hocks. Their long, spear like horns can be up to 30 inches long and are ringed on the lower one-third. A defined pattern of black markings that contrast with the white face and fawn-colored body are prominently displayed in dominance rituals to emphasize the length of horns and strength of the shoulder. The head is marked with black triangular patches and broad black stripes that extend from the base of the horns over the eyes to the cheeks. A ring of black encircles the throat and runs down the neck to the chest. The ears end in a black tip. A narrow black stripe runs along the spine, and another one separates the lower flank from the white underparts of the body. The white forelegs have a black ring above the knee and a black patch below. The black tail tassel reaches to the hocks. The male can weigh up to 450 pounds and stands four and one-half feet at the shoulder, their horns are shorter and stockier than those of the female. The female (cow) of the specie tends to be slightly smaller in body. However her horns, though more slender, are most often longer than those of the male (bull). The cow’s horns tend to curve slightly backward, while the bull’s horns are thicker and straighter.
Gemsbok typically feed in early morning and late afternoon and sometimes on moonlit nights when the moisture content in the plants is higher. They eat coarse grasses and browse from thorny shrubs. These animals are mainly grazers but will browse on bushes and shrubs if there is no grass available. They will dig up succulent roots, bulbs and tubers and eat wild melons for their water content. Because these plants in their habitat have adapted ways to store water it allows the Gemsbok to get the water they need from what they eat allowing them to survive for days or even weeks without drinking water. They will sometimes eat soil for the mineral content.
Behavior and social groups
Gemsbok are gregarious animals congregating in groups of around 14 but sometimes in larger groups of 50 to 200 made up primarily of females. Their social system is unusual because non-territorial males will live in mixed groups with the females and their young. Most of the males do remain solitary and defend a territory but may spend a few hours or weeks with the larger herd with females before going off on their own again. The herd composition is constantly changing based on the need. There are bachelor herds made up of young males or nursery groups of females and their calves.
There is a dominance hierarchy based on age and size. As the calves grow they test each other through tests of strength. As they establish were they fit in the hierarchy the need to fight is decreased. Ritual displays with replace actual contact, except between evenly matched individuals who may still fight to establish their rank.
Extremely aggressive and very dangerous when injured, cornered, or threatened, both sexes carry very long spear-like horns which they will use to thrust at the animal attacking them. There are rare stories of them impaling and killing lions one of their primary predators. If attacked by multiple predators they will attempt to back into a thorn bush protecting their rear while slashing at that predator from the front. If the herd spots hyena or other predators they will bunch around the young to protect them.
Conservation status and threats
At this time there are no major threats to this species, they are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Although its numbers and distribution had declined significantly in the past dues to human activities in South Africa there has been a widespread effort to get their numbers back up by reintroducing them into protected areas or private land. Their largest numbers now occur on private land or in protected areas but their numbers are stable.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Lis Redden