Taxonomy & description

Arabian oryx
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Artiodactyla
Family Bovidae
Subfamily Hippotraginae
Genus Oryx Blainville, 1816
Species leucoryx (Pallas, 1777)
Synonyms asiatica, beatrix, latipes, pallasii
Scientific name Oryx leucoryx (Pallas, 1777) [Orux (Greek) a gazelle or antelope. Leukos (Greek) white]
Common names Arabic - Maha; Wudhaihi; Baqar al Wash, Boosolah
Danish - Arabisk oryx
Dutch - Arabische oryx
English - Arabian Oryx; White Oryx
Finnish - Valkobeisa
French - Oryx blanc; Oryx d'Arabie
German - Wei├če Oryx
Italian - Orice bianco ; Orice d'Arabia
Spanish - Orix blanco; Orix de Arabia
Swedish - arabisk oryx; vit oryx


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History of the name

The term "oryx" was first introduced into scientific literature by the Russian zoologist Peter Simon Pallas in his memoir on the genus Antilope published in 1767, where it was applied to the African eland as Antilope oryx [Pallas, 1767]. However in his second memoir on the subject published in 1777, Pallas rightly transferred the name to the Gemsbok of the Cape [Pallas, 1777].

In the same memoir, he also described for the first time what we now call the Arabian oryx as an Antilope leucoryx, giving "Arabia, and perhaps Libya" as its locality.

In 1816, de Blainville, when subdividing the antelope group, first adopted Oryx as a generic term, and made the Antilope oryx of Pallas its type, as Oryx gazella [de Blainville, 1816].

A muddle followed then when in 1826 Lichtenstein transferred the term leucoryx to the Scimitar-horned oryx (now Oryx dammah) collected in Sudan by the German naturalists Hemprich and Ehrenberg [Lichtenstein, 1826].

The now anonymous Arabian oryx was hopefully renamed in 1857 Oryx beatrix by Dr John Edward Gray after a pair - actually the first living specimens of Arabian oryx to reach Europe - had been presented to the Zoological Society of London by a certain Captain John Shepherd [Gray, 1857]. The female quickly died and the survivor male, kept in the collection of the British Museum was first regarded as a half-grown Oryx gazella, the Gemsbok from southern Africa. However Dr. Gray immediately recognised it as belonging to a species unknown to him, and, having, apparently no suspicion that it was possibly the veritable "Leucoryx" of the previous authors, described it as new at a Scientific Meeting of the Zoological Society held on June 23, 1857, and proposed to call it Oryx beatrix, after HRH The Princess Beatrice [Sclater, 1872].

In 1903, Oldfield Thomas renamed the Scimitar-horned oryx 'Algazal' and the Arabian oryx was given back its original name of Oryx leucoryx [Thomas, 1903]. Still the name beatrix was to persist for many years. The confusion between the Scimitar-horned oryx and the Arabian oryx is even reinforced by the fact that they both carried the name "White oryx".

The genus Oryx

Some authors consider the Arabian oryx as a subspecies of Oryx gazella [Haltenorth & Diller, 1986] but it is generally admitted that the genus Oryx comprises [Ansell, 1977; Corbet, 1978]:

Arabian oryx
Arabian oryx Oryx leucoryx
Scimitar-horned oryx Oryx dammah
Beisa oryx Oryx gazella beisa
Fringe-eared oryx Oryx gazella callotis
Gemsbok Oryx gazella gazella

Description

Morphology

The smallest of the genus Oryx (around 90 kg), the Arabian oryx is a muscular and compact animal characterized by its white reflective pelage. It has a barrel-like body with wildly spaced legs that give it a fast stable horse-like gait.

The colour of adults is a uniform white with dark markings on face, horn bases, median chest, front of legs and tail tip. A flank stripe is sometimes visible. The hooves are splayed and shovel-like, probably an adaptation for walking on loose sandy soils.

Sexual dimorphism

The level of sexual dimorphism is very slight. Males and females present almost identical silhouettes although the males have a larger neck. Both sexes carry long horns about 0.530-0.810 m from anterior base to tip in adults, straight or slightly curved backwards, almost circular in section, and annulated proximally. Females' horns are usually thinner at the base than those of the males.

Young

The colour of the newborn oryx calf is a light sandy brown, progressively changing to white after three months, while the facial and leg markings appear. The neonate oryx measure half of its mother's height (shoulder height), and show the tip of their horns from day one [Petit et al., 1989; Flamand et al., 1994].