Postcard: Why When an Oryx Gets Hot It Turns Up the Heat


I’m quite taken with Oryx (you might have heard them called gemsbok). I’ve admired them from afar on nature websites and on the Facebook pages of some of my favorite photographers but it wasn’t until my Namibian adventure that I was able to see on in person.

From their magnificent spiral etched horns to their spectacular graphic black, brown and white markings, they fulfill every fantasy I have about wildlife and the planet’s most magical creatures. When I think about gemsbok, adjectives like majestic, powerful and mythical come to mind, and it so happens, biologically, they’re just as impressive as their exterior.

To survive in the arid Namib desert, oryx have the unique ability to raise their internal temperature as high as 45 degrees Celsius. Why on earth would an animal want to do that when it’s so damn hot out? Simple, if your temperature is equal to that of you’re environment there’s no need to sweat—hence, reduced water loss. And in a world where water is at a premium, anything an animal can do to conserve its resources is a priority.

But that’s only the beginning. When internal temperatures go up there’s a point where the brain starts to malfunction. (Anyone who’s had a bad fever knows what I am talking about.) As a result, an oryx has another distinctive feature: a set of tissues in its nose that circulate the blood, cooling it down before it reaches the brain. Together, these two systems working in tandem keep the oryx alive and well and able to forgo drinking for extended periods of time.


Isn’t Mother Nature incredible?

Here are some other interesting oryx facts you might enjoy from…

  • Oryx is a large antelope. It reaches 5 to 7 feet in length; 18 to 35 inches in height at the shoulder and weight between 220 to 450 pounds, depending on the species.
  • Oryx lives in herds whose size depends on the available food. When the food is abundantly present (after the rainy season), oryx can be found in herds composed of couple of hundreds of animals. During dry season, when the food is scarce, oryx lives in small herds composed of less than 30 animals.
  • Oryx can survive long period without water (even couple of weeks). Also, certain plants, such as wild melon, underground roots and tuber, can provide enough moisture.
  • Oryx has excellent sense of smell. It can detect rainfall 50 miles away. Once the rainfall is detected, whole herd is on the move.
  • When faced with direct threats, animals in the herd stand sideways to appear larger. If that does not scare the predators – oryx will use its long horns for self-defense.


10 replies »

  1. They are absolutely beautiful. Your photographs of them are wonderful and I thank you for all those oryx facts. I am going to convey them to my kids. I was once told – when I was a child – that oryx might have been one of the sources of the unicorn legend since in profile they appear to have a single horn since the horns are so symmetrical. Is that something you have heard? My 8 year old likes to think that narwhals were once land animals and that they, therefore, are the true unicorns. He also wants to breed rhino and zebras to make striped unicorns though.


    • LOL… Let me know how that breeding program works out. Could be some $$$ in it. LOL ..

      Now that you mention it, I vaguely remember someone suggesting the unicorn/oryx theory to me but it was awhile ago, not on this last trip. Makes sense. They have that mythical look for sure and their horns are just spectacular. So glad you like the pics!

      Liked by 1 person

    • The oryx/gemsbok definitely have one of the more unique adaptation stories. I was very intrigued by it when one of the guides told me about it. I find them fascinating and so beautiful. The first time I saw an oryx at Desert Rhino Camp, two males started fighting. I could hear their horns smack and echo off the rocks around us. It was so cool. I got a few pics but it was so dark and their movement so fast it was hard to get anything crisp. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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