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Gemsbok (Oryx gazella)

Gemsbuck Drinking, Photo Credit: Hans Hillewaert

Gemsbok, Oryx gazella

Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo Credit: Winfried Bruenken

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Gemsbok - Oryx gazella

Home > Safari Planner  > Mammals > Gemsbuck

The Gemsbok (also known as the South African Oryx or the Gemsbuck) is a large antelope with impressive long straight spearlike horns. It has an attractive greyfawn body with black on the flanks and white on the underside and a black and white pattern on the face. The tail is hairy, like a horses.

Gemsbok are principally grazers, but will also browse on the thorny shrubs. They can survive for long periods without water. Herds vary from 5 to 40 individuals, but the bulls normally prefer a solitary existence.

Size: height at shoulder 120 cm; weight up to 300 kg.

Gemsbok Q&A

Working as a Safari Guide I began to notice some common questions that guests were asking me, here is my guide to some of the most asked questions that people ask about the Gemsbok.

Where does the name Gemsbok come from?
The name comes from the Dutch name of the male chamois (a goat-antelope native to mountainous regions in Europe including the Alps). And although there are some similarities in appearance, especially in the colour of the face area, the chamois and the oryx are not closely related.

Do female Gemsbok have horns?
Yes, females have longer thinner horns and they are pretty much only outward difference between males and females and as such many hunters mistake females for males.

Do Gemsbok have to drink water every day?
No, Gemsbok are not water dependant and are infact very well suited to desert conditions and can survive days or even weeks without drinking.

Why do Gemsbok have white underparts?
It is thought that their stomaches are white to help keep them cool from the heat reflecting of the earth in hot desert areas.

What do Gemsbok eat?
The Oryx diet consists mainly of coarse grasses, but they also browse from thorny shrubs. In desert areas they consume thick leaved plants, wild melons, as well as roots and tubers they dig out of the ground.

Plants growing in arid areas inhabited by oryx have also adapted to the hot, dry conditions and either store water or have mechanisms to prevent excess loss. Plants collect dew, gradually releasing it during the hotter parts of the day. Some plants increase their water content by 25 to 40 percent, so when oryx feed late at night or early in the morning, it provides them with both food and water.

What predators do the Gemsbok have?
Lion, wild dog and hyena.

The Gemsbok's Horns

With an average of 85cm in length, Gemsbok have been widely hunted for their spectactular horns that are perfectly straight on males and extend from the base of the skull to a slight outward and rearward angle. Females have longer thinner horns that have a slight outward and rearward curve in addition to their angle. Gemsbok are one of the few antelope species where female trophies are sometimes more desirable than male ones.

Where is the best place to see Gemsbok?

Gemsbok are mainly desert-dwelling and are not water dependent, but many of the northern Gemsbok live in open grasslands where water is readily available.

Excellent places to view Gemsbok:
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park
Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
Karoo National Park, South Africa


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