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Brevard Zoo Keepers Raising Rare Oryx Calf


On February 28, Brevard Zoo welcomed its second Scimitar-horned Oryx calf of the year!

Unfortunately, first-time mother, Kitcha, displayed no interest in the female newborn. Tests performed the day after birth showed the calf had not yet nursed, and a decision was made to pull her from the exhibit. She is now living in an area where she can see and smell the rest of the herd, and she is currently being hand-reared by the Zoo’s dedicated animal care staff.

“She was quite small as a newborn, so we are monitoring her weight and food intake,” said Michelle Smurl, the Zoo’s director of animal programs. “For the first four days, she was eating every four hours. As her weight increases, we increase her food intake and she is now eating three times a day.”

Mom, Kitcha, was born at Brevard Zoo in 2009. The new calf’s father, Nuri, came from Smithsonian’s National Zoo and now lives at Lion Country Safari. Nuri also fathered the male calf born at Brevard on February 3.



4_170315007Photo Credits: Brevard Zoo

The Scimitar-horned Oryx (Oryx dammah) is also known as the Sahara Oryx. It is a straight-horned antelope that stands just over 1 m (3.3 ft) at the shoulder. Both sexes have horns, but those of the females are more slender.

They are social and prefer to travel in herds. Their habitat in the wild was steppe and desert, where they ate foliage, grass, herbs, shrubs, succulent plants, legumes, juicy roots, buds, and fruit. They can survive without water for nine to ten months because their kidneys prevent water loss from urination (an adaptation to desert habitats). They can also get water from water-rich plants.

Both males and females reach sexual maturity at 1.5 to 2 years of age. Gestation lasts about nine months, after which a single calf is born, weighing 20 to 33 pounds (9.1 to 15.0 kg). Twin births are very rare. Both mother and calf will return to the main herd within hours of the birth. The female separates herself from the herd for a few hours while she nurses the calf. Weaning starts at 3.5 months, and the young become fully independent at around 14 weeks old.

The Scimitar-horned Oryx is currently classified as “Extinct in the Wild” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They were once one of the most prominent mammal species across northern Africa, extending from Morocco to Egypt and as far south as Sudan. In 1996, the species was classified as “Critically Endangered”. However, just a few years later, in 1999, they became extinct in the wild as a result of climate change and an increase of hunting due to a growing human presence in the region.

The species is now successfully bred in human care and a healthy population of captive-born Oryx has been introduced to their native range. According to the IUCN: “A global captive breeding programme was initiated in the 1960s. The International Studbook currently records 1749 Scimitar-horned Oryx in 221 institutions with up to 11,000 on Texas ranches and 4,000 in collections in the UAE and other Gulf countries (Gilbert 2015). Most of the animals in the ISB and in Texas are thought to be descended from 40-50 founders, originating in Chad, so it is likely that the proportion of genetic diversity represented is low.

As part of planned reintroduction projects, animals have been released into fenced protected areas in Tunisia (Bou Hedma N.P. 1985, Sidi Toui N.P. 1999, Oued Dekouk N.P. 1999, Dghoumes N.P. 2007), Morocco (Souss-Massa N.P. 1995), and Senegal (Ferlo F.R 1998, Guembeul W.R. 1999). A large-scale reintroduction is under way in Ouadi-Rimé Ouadi-Achim Faunal Reserve, Chad. A first tranche of 25 animals was transferred to acclimatization enclosures in the reserve in March 2016 (Newby 2016).”