Thursday, January 15, 2015

Scimitar-Horned Oryx

The scimitar-horned oryx has been extinct in the wild since about 2000. It used to be widespread in the arid and Saharan areas of North Africa and as late as 1985 there were an estimated 500 in the wild in Chad and Niger. The civil war in Chad contributed to the extinction of the species. Today there are captive animals being bred for planned long-term reintroduction and a number of fenced populations exist in their original habitat of Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal where the reintroduction will take place. In 2005 there were at least 1,550 of the oryx held in managed breeding programs around the world and a private collection in the United Arab Emirates has about 4,000. 
This side view of the scimitar-horned oryx shows why the unicorn legend may have originated with it.
It has a white coat with a red-brown chest and black/brown markings on the forehead and down the length of the nose. It is speculated that the myth of the unicorn originated with a sighting of the scimitar-horned oryx with one broken horn. It closely resembles the addax, but can be distinguished by: (a) its long straight horns, as opposed to twisting horns; and (b) the black/brown marking on the nose and black/brown lateral stripe across each eye, as opposed to the white "X" on the upper nose. 
Blackish/brown nose blotch and eye stripe are clearly visible. 
Front view with better showing of the nose blotch. Note how only a small portion of the horns are visible as they curve backwards over the back. 
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center has a population of 20 or more of these oryx and produces about six to eight calves a year. In 2007 they sent two of the Oryx to Tunisia as part of an international effort to reintroduce them into the wild. 
A different angle on the horns.
When we visited Fossil Rim, in Glen Rose, Texas, we saw only one of the scimitar-horned oryx, standing by itself down a side dirt road, off the main paved road. We got very close to it with our car but were unable to coax it over to our car window to feed. A beautiful animal and a privilege to see. 

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