This large antelope with its striking appearance of long horns and distinct colouration is the national animal of Namibia. The Oryx, also known as the Gemsbok, occurs in the more arid regions throughout the African continent where it feeds on course grasses and thorny shrubs – often during the morning and late afternoon.
Having successfully adapted to harsh conditions where scarce water and intense heat are the norm, it is no surprise that this large mammal has solidified itself as the country’s national animal. The Oryx was chosen as Namibia’s national animal due to its courage, elegance and pride – with the national coat of arms bearing this unmistakable dweller of the desert.
What is special about the Oryx?
Oryx are considered by some to be the most handsome and striking antelope species. Striped like a race car and possessing two horns much like those of the mythical unicorn, it is the unique social structure of this species that sets it apart from others. These animals form mixed herds of both females and males, unlike other antelope which typically employ the ‘harem’ system of one male controlling a group of females. Another interesting fact is that both sexes of the species have horns, although the male’s horns are marginally shorter and thicker.
What do Oryx look like?
The Gemsbok Oryx has a tan colour and a long black tail. The animals have black markings along the neck and chin, as well as around their eyes and muzzles. A blackish stripe extends along their back and upper legs, its legs have white ‘socks’. Their shoulders and necks are muscular. It is for their striking horns that the Oryx are being hunted. On average 85 centimetres long, it is the only observable difference between males and females: males have perfectly straight horns, while the horns of females are slightly angled. The Gemsbok is the largest of the Oryx breed, males can stand about 1,2 m at the shoulder and weigh up to 240 kg. Oryx have been recorded to run up to 60 km/h. In the wild, their average life span is about 18 years.
Why is the Oryx Namibia’s national animal?
The way in which Oryx conserve water is fascinating. Having to consume up to 3 liters of water per 100kg of body weight per day, they have successfully evolved to extract water from fruit and vegetables such as the Tsamma melon to maximize their water intake, as well as concentrating their urine to decrease water output. These techniques, in addition to certain behaviours such as shade-seeking and special feeding habits, allow some Oryx to survive without drinking water for up to 10 months. These animals are perhaps also best known for their ability to wander far and wide when food and water is scarce, making them the quintessential Namibian animal.
Where can you see Oryx in Namibia?
Namibia is one of the best places to experience Oryx, the current Oryx population in Namibia is believed to be 373,000. These large antelopes have adapted to many environments that most large mammals are unfit to live in. They are so prevalent in Namibia that you will likely spot them alongside the road all over the country. Seeing them in the dunes at Sossusvlei against the backdrop of the rising sun, however, is especially memorable. Keep an eye out for the characteristic large hoofed tracks on the soil. During the day, the animal will rest in the shade to escape the heat. If there is no shade available, the antelope will position itself in a manner to expose as little as possible of its body surface to the sun.
Do you want to experience an Oryx in real life? Why not explore Namibia with a guide? This way you can learn more about these and other fascinating animals Namibia has to offer. We help you plan your Namibia trip.