The scimitar oryx, Oryx dammah, is a large antelope originating from the Sahara which is now extinct in the wild thanks to hunting, conflicts and the disappearance of its habitat.
Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Bovidae
1.40 m at the shoulder; 350 kg at the most
8.5 months, one baby
EW, extinct in the wild
Way of life
In the past, more than 1,000 Scimitar oryx could gather and migrate hundreds of kilometres further north towards pastureland in the rainy season. The rest of the time, they lived in mixed groups of 10 to 40 individuals, led by a dominant male. Females about to give birth leave the herd for around one week.
More active at dawn and dusk, during the day they seek out shaded spots or dig out holes in the sand to protect themselves from the sun and thus minimise water loss.
An antelope with a creamy-white coat, the scimitar oryx has long scimitar-shaped horns which can measure more than one metre. Its well-developed hooves allow it to move around the sand with ease. It is perfectly adapted for desert life. Thanks to a high body temperature of up to 46°C, it only sweats very little. Without dehydrating and content with the moisture contained in the grasses that it grazes on, it can survive for several months.
The scimitar oryx often featured in Ancient Egyptian painting, during the era when it was domesticated. It is believed that the oryx was the origin of the unicorn myth as, viewed in profile, it looks as if it has just one horn, and sometimes, following violent clashes with a rival, it can lose one of them...
Traditional game for the Tuareg people, the trophy of choice for Western hunters, in competition with cattle and a victim of habitat loss (oil drilling, for example), the scimitar oryx is “extinct in the wild”. Not a single individual has been seen in the wild since 1983. Thanks to breeding programmes involving several European zoological parks, including the Réserve Zoologique de la Haute-Touche, it has been reintroduced into reserves in Morocco, Tunisia and then Niger.