Oryx were once among the most successful larger mammals to
colonize desert regions of Africa and the Middle East During the 20th
century, however, increased hunting of the Saharan scimitar oryx
(Oryx dammah) and the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) of the Middle
East left both species critically threatened.
Oryx scrape holes in sand dunes with their hooves and horns to
expose cooler ground and make a depression shaded from the sun.
They graze on grasses and shrubs in the cooler periods after dawn and
before dusk, In the absence of water they dig up bulbs and other
succulent plant parts and can survive on the moisture in these for
weeks without taking a drink. They can also detect rain from many
kilometers away and trek to the region in order to find fresh plant
The last Arabian oryx in the wild were sighted in the 1970s.
However, from the 1950s onward small herds of oryx were taken into
captivity as part of a conscious effort to save the species.
Reintroductions to the wild were made in 1982 in Oman, 1983 in
Jordan, and 1990 in Saudi Arabia. These appear to have been partially
successful and some 500 Arabian oryx now roam their original desert
lands, with some 300 still held captive for breeding in the Middle
East and 2,000 elsewhere, mainly in the United States.