Mike Unwin
United Kingdom UK

Mike is an award winning wildlife writer, editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

Categories: African Wildlife, Mammals

Gemsbok (Oryx gazella)

This powerful, handsome animal – a southern race of East Africa’s oryx – is synonymous with the Kalahari. A herd of gemsbok cresting a red sand dune is one of the region’s iconic wildlife spectacles. Behind the impressive appearance are some remarkable adaptations to its arid environment.

  • 5 Fascinating Facts About Gemsbok

  • 1. A gemsbok’s straight, rapier-like horns can reach 120cm in length, and are longer and narrower in the female. They use their horns in territorial combat and as lethal weapons against predators. Gemsbok can kill lions.
  • 2. A low metabolism allows these antelopes to survive for much of the year without drinking. They get the moisture they need from their food, including desert melons that they dig up in times of drought.
  • 3. Gemsbok minimise water loss through perspiration by allowing their body temperature to rise to an astonishing 45°C and then dissipating the stored heat at night. Overheating is averted by a filigree of blood vessels in the nose, known as the carotid rete, through which all the blood that passes to the brain is circulated and cooled.
  • 4. With most other Kalahari antelope, one dominant breeding male controls a harem of females and young, and bachelor males form separate herds. By contrast, gemsbok form mixed herds of males and females.
  • 5. After giving birth, a female  hides her calf for 3–6 weeks, remaining nearby and visiting a few times a day to nurse. The calf’s pale brown colour works as camouflage. It does not develop its striking black-and-white face markings until it is ready to join the herd with the mother.

Wildlife Watching

When planning your safari, it might be prudent to research where your favorite African wildlife lives and when. As the seasons change, so do their habitats. We are safari experts, so if you need any information, guidance or simply want to book your safari tour... contact us. We're happy to help. Wildlife watching is one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences. Just remember, don't get too close!