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Discover the Untold Wonders of Africa's Desert Antelope, the Magnificent Gemsbok

The gemsbok is a symbol of perseverance and survival in Africa's vast and sun-drenched deserts.

This desert antelope has won the hearts of nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers across the world with its majestic and intimidating demeanor. Join us as we discover the untold secrets of the exquisite gemsbok.

Gemsboks are often said to embody the spirit of the desert.

These antelopes are desert specialists without equal.

What is a Gemsbok?

This is a large African antelope (Genus Oryx).

What does a gemsbok look like?All four legs of gemsbok are black on the top halves and white below the knees




Oryx gazella

Color is a pale fawn grey.

White on the belly and inside the legs.

There is a black stripe down the spine.

They have a black patch on the top of the rump.

All four legs of this antelope are black on the top halves and white below the knees.

The tail is black with long hairs at the end.

They have distinctive black and white markings on the face, white around the mouth and the nose, black on top of the muzzle.

A black band runs from the front of the ear through they eye.

Gemsbok habitat

They live in arid grasslands and rocky deserts, as found in the Kalahari-Sandveld.

Gemsbok diet

These African animals are grazers, but they will browse on bushes and forbs if there is no grass available.

Oryx often dig up succulent roots, bulbs, and tubers.

They eat wild tsama melons for their water content.

They obtain minerals by eating soil.

gemsbok photosGemsbok live in arid grasslands and rocky deserts

They graze for extended periods at night when the lower temperatures lead to an increase in the moisture content of the vegetation.

A gemsbok does this as part of its ability to survive without drinking.

These African wild animals furthermore produce concentrated urine and allow its body temperature to rise rather than sweat as part of this strategy.




Shoulder height

1,26 meters

1,25 meters


240 kilograms

210 kilograms

Are they social animals?

There are also bachelor herds made up of young males, and nursery herds that contain only females and their calves.

They wander widely when food is scarce and unreliable.

These safari animals live in small herds of up to a dozen animals.

They do appear in larger numbers where the grazing is good.

Mature males are territorial but will temporarily join mixed herds containing adult females.

How do they breed?

These African wild animals' mate at any time of the year.

A territorial oryx bull tests the reproductive condition of a female by sniffing her genitals and smelling her urine.

If he finds a female in heat, the bull will approach her with his head high or stretched forward.

He taps her hind legs with his foreleg.

If she is ready to mate; she stands still, and he mounts her up to six times in quick succession.

gemsbok hornsThe stunning horns of Gemsboks, average 33 inches (84 cm) in length.

For its first three to six weeks the oryx calf usually hides itself in dense grass while its mother grazes a distance away.

A calf frequently spends the night with its mother and finds itself a new hiding place in the morning.

The mother may have to strike her calf with her horns to force it go and hide.

Once the hiding phase is over the calf follows its mother with the rest of the herd and joins creches with its peers.

By the time the calves emerge, their horns have started to grow.

This fact has started a myth that the calves are born with horns.

Calves are weaned when about six months old.

Are they territorial animals?

Yes, they are.

We know from Gemsbok behavior that territorial males mark their areas by thrashing bushes with their horns and pawing the ground.

They also mark territories with small, neat dung piles from a low crouching position so that the pellets do not scatter.

These African animals have glands between the hooves that mark the ground wherever they walk.

Because their territories are so large, bulls cannot protect all of it from intruders.

Most intruders leave as soon as they notice a resident bull, so confrontations are rare.

The territorial bulls usually accept the young males in mixed herds.

How is dominance established amongst the bulls?

Clashes between males are quite common.

Serious opponents will circle each other slowly.

They while paw the ground.

Sometimes they will also thrash bushes fiercely with their horns.

gemsbok bulls fighting

It will use its horns for jabs at his opponent only in the most serious encounters.

Because of the length and angle of his horns a bull will not fight by lowering his head and stabbing forward.

In deliberate fights the opponents use a well-honed stabbing technique.

They stand alongside each other and hook backwards and sideways with the horns.

The skin on a bull's neck and shoulders is thick to serve as protection during these battles.

A dominant gemsbok bull is the one holding his head high with his neck bend.

The dominant animal will typically have his horns pointing towards his rival.

He is also likely to take slow and steady high steps as he moves.

The submissive animal is the one with a cringing posture that is keeping its head low and its tail swishing.

How do they defend themselves against predators?

Gemsbok predators include:

Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, Spotted Hyenas and Wild Dogs

This African animal has horns that are amazingly effective against predators.

If more than one predator attacks, the animals will attempt to back into a thorn bush.

gemsbok predatorsIn the Kalahari Gemsbok make up 32% of lion kills and 52% of hyena kills

In this way it will protect its rear while at the same time slashing at the attackers.

Herds bunch around calves when spotted hyenas are detected.

There are a few reliable accounts of eland impaling and killing lions with their horns

They are however important prey for larger carnivores.

What is one last interesting fact about gemsbok?

They have an interesting way of surviving in the desert heat.

They don't seem to be bothered by the extreme heat of the day and don't even try to avoid it.

They do this through a mechanism called rete mirabile.

Blood flowing to the brain is cooled by heat exchange with blood flowing from the nasal membrane.

This process cools the body's heat balance, allowing them to thrive in the extreme conditions of the desert.


The gemsbok, with its remarkable black and white facial patterns and long, straight horns, is admirably adapted to the harsh desert habitat.

Its ability to survive extreme heat and look for water sources in desert locations is nothing short of amazing.

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