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Gemsbok are the largest and most well-known of the three Oryx species. Probably their most prominent feature is their horns. These magnificent horns can grow up to 120 centimetres in height and are straight with a slight curve to the back. Male gemsbok use their horns to defend their territories from other males, while the females use it to defend themselves and their calves from predators. But the gemsbok is also characterised by its light brown skin and striking black and white markings on its face and legs. Besides their horns, these features are the easiest way to spot them in their natural habitat. 

The Lifestyle and Habits of Gemsbok

Gemsbok can be found in deserts, grasslands or savannas in South Western Africa. They are incredibly well adapted to these regions as they can drink very little water at a time. In fact, they can derive most of the water they require from the food they eat. They also reduce water loss through perspiration by allowing their temperature to go up to a high 45°C. They then dissipate the stored heat at night. 

Naturally, their habitat can be quite desolate, so gemsbok will browse for food and typically walk in groups of around 14. However, the size of the group can go up to 200. 

The posture and gallop of a gemsbok are similar to that of a horse. They also have strong necks and shoulders that allow them to defend themselves against predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs in their natural habitat. 

The Diet of Gemsbok 

Gemsbok mostly feed on nutritious coarse grasses, leaves and herbs. During the drier seasons, they will feed on flowers or Cactaceae. They also eat succulents, specifically tsama melons, to supplement water. 

Interestingly, gemsbok will sometimes eat soil to gain mineral content. This helps their bodies to regulate certain processes.

Gemsbok usually feed during the early morning and late afternoon when the moisture content in plants is higher. 

The Mating Habits of Gemsbok 

Gemsbok are polygynous, meaning one male will mate with all the receptive females in a herd. The male will secure exclusive mating access by gathering mixed herds into his territory. 

They have no specified breeding season. However, the young in a herd will be more or less the same age because of reproductive synchrony between females. 

More Fun Facts about Gemsbok

  • Males only reach sexual maturity at about five years of age, whereas females will start mating at the age of two. 
  • When a female gives birth, she will hide her calf for up to six weeks, visiting a few times a day to nurse.
  • Gemsbok can live up to 20 years and will usually stay in the same herd. 
  • They can reach running speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour.
  • Females have slightly longer and thinner horns, while the horns of males are thicker at the base. 

There are no gemsbok in the Kruger National Park, but they can be seen in other parks, such as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This park is located on the border between South Africa and Botswana. However, a wide variety of other types of antelope call the Kruger National Park home. If you are planning a trip, be sure to book a relaxing stay at Yingwe Lodge to make it a memorable experience. Contact our team to make a reservation.