Gemsbok (Oryx gazella)

Gemsbok in Etosha National Park

Gemsbok in Etosha National Park

The Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) is a large antelope native to the deserts and semi-deserts of southern Africa (mainly Namibia, Botswana, northern South Africa, and western Zimbabwe). Its name derives from Afrikaans and refers to the European chamois which has a somewhat similar facial colour pattern, but is otherwise not closely related. Throughout its range, the Gemsbok is a symbol of life in the desert as it withstands this harsh environment with extreme temperatures and almost no surface water. Indeed, the animals do not depend on drinking as they can gain all necessary fluids from feeding on grass, roots, leaves, and succulent plants. However, if water is available they can readily be seen drinking and bathing…

The most striking features of Gemsboks are their horns which are 85 cm long on average, but can also reach more than 1.5 m in some individuals! These sharp weapons are used in rivalries between males and for defending agains predators. Also humans are occasionally attacked and speared, explaining their German name “Spießbock“. The horns are also the easiest way to distinguish between the sexes with males having shorter, but thicker horns. Today there are around 370 000 gemsbok living in southern Africa, but another 3 000 roam through the deserts of New Mexico, USA, where the species has been introduced in the 1960s.

I have photographed these impressive antelopes on a journey through Namibia in February 2007. Throughout the country, you can see them next to the roads, but obviously they are most abundant in the nature reserves, such as the Etosha National Park.

Gemsbok in Etosha National Park

Gemsbok in Etosha National Park

action at the waterhole

action at the waterhole

drinking Gemsbok

drinking Gemsbok

bathing Gemsbok

bathing Gemsbok

Gemsbok in Etosha National Park

Gemsbok in Etosha National Park

savannah scene

savannah scene

Gemsbok taking a break

Gemsbok taking a break

being hectic

being hectic

a lone Gemsbok in the vast emptiness of Namibia

a lone Gemsbok in the vast emptiness of Namibia

in the shimmering heat of Namibia

in the shimmering heat of Namibia

13 responses to “Gemsbok (Oryx gazella)

    • oh, you’re actually wrong! Quite a lot of species are used to cars in these national parks, they don’t run away and stand a few metres away from the roads… I took these photographs with a 300 mm lens…

  1. Of all the antelope species these we think the Gemsbok are the most regal. Recently read that they are the origin of the ‘unicorn’ myth – side-on their shadows cast a single horn. Next on the list of favourites is the eland… so majestic – right?!

    • oh, I cannot choose – these antelopes have all something special!! Maybe impalas might become boring after a while… but what about kudus? or even still better nyalas? and then bushbucks? I know, I like the steenbok best!!

  2. Really lovely post, Matthias. All of your photos here are exquisite, and the gemsbok is so elegant. I esec. like the photo of the pair drinking at the water hole. 🙂

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