Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin


Oryx gazella


Gemsboks are large bovids of the Oryx genus.. This species can grow to be 115-125 cm at the shoulder and 180-195 cm long with muscular necks and inelastic skin. Both males and females of this species have slightly curved, ringed horns from 60-150 cm long. Sex can be distinguished by the size of the animal and horns; females tend to be smaller than males and have shorter, slender horns than males. Female gemsbok can weigh 180-225 kg while males tend to be larger with a weight of 180-240 kg. Gemsboks have a gray-tan color on most of their body. This species has black markings from the base of the horns to just above the muzzle, black markings are also found over the eyes and cheeks. Gemsboks have a black line down the spine and on the front of the legs. White fur can be found on the lower legs, muzzle, and underbelly. Northern populations of gemsbok have darker coats with thinner black markings and black tufts on the ears.


Gemsbok can be found in southern east Africa. This species has been introduced into Mexico and the southwestern United States. Gemsbok prefer open areas such as stony plains but can also survive in wooded grasslands, wetter grasslands, rocky mountainous areas, sandy habitats, arid habitats and areas of low productivity.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Gemsboks are grazing herbivores, their diet being exclusively on plant matter.  Some of the vegetation eaten by gemsbok have high water content and become a water source; these plants included wild tsama melons, cucumbers, tubers and roots. They may dig up to a meter to reach tubers and roots. They also browse during droughts or when grasses are not available.


This species is polygynous, having multiple mates. Solitary males herd females and their young into a territory to secure the females from mating with other males. The male then becomes the resident bull, who has exclusive mating access to the females. Eight and one half months after mating a female produces a single calf, which is completely brown in color and hidden for six weeks while the mother is with the herd, only returning to nurse the calf. Females nurse their calves for 3.5 months until they are weaned and then the young are dispersed from the herd if they are males and join the herd for an additional month if they are females. Female gemsboks reach sexual maturity after 2 years.

Months and Times of Activity

Dawn and dusk are the times of highest activity for Gemsbok because they can ingest the condensation on vegetation as they graze. Gemsbok are gregarious, traveling in groups of about 14-50 individuals, during the rainy season or migration these groups can be as large as 200 individuals. Large herds have a mixed ration of males and females while smaller groups consist of all females and young, also called nursery herds, females with one male, or bachelor herds consisting of only males. Some males remain solitary on their territory. This species is nomadic, wandering in search of resources.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Herds of gemsbok have a hierarchy structure of a dominant male traveling in the rear of the herd, dominant female traveling in the very front of the herd, sometimes larger groups even have a second-ranked (beta) male. Dominance is determined by aggressive displays of jabs and “fencing” using their horns.
•    This species is capable of increasing their body temperature to delay evaporative cooling. They can change their body temperature from 37.7 degrees Celsius to 45 degrees Celsius.
•    Gemsbok is the largest of the Oryx genus.
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: ANTELOPE by Melissa Stewart


Sanders, S. 2005. "Oryx gazella" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at