Exotic Animal Management (African Oryx)
What is the oryx?
The African oryx, or gemsbok, (Oryx gazella) is a large African antelope that now lives in southern New Mexico.
Why are they here?
Purpose of introducing exotic big game: The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish wanted to establish a huntable animal population in an area where there were not currently huntable numbers of big game.
The Greater Kudu - This animal turned out to be highly susceptible to cattle diseases, so was never released into the wild.
The Ibex - This member of the goat family from Siberia and Iran was introduced into the Florida Mountains near Deming, New Mexico. The ibex has been successful in that area and has begun to move out of the mountains and onto the plains.
The Barbary Sheep - This African wild sheep was introduced on land near Picacho, New Mexico. The Barbary sheep has become well established there and has expanded its range.
The Oryx - This African antelope was introduced to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The oryx was brought from the Kalahari Desert in Africa to an experimental range at Red Rock New Mexico. Federal law prohibits introducing a wild animal from another country into the wild in this country so offspring were obtained at this experimental range to introduce onto the White Sands Missile Range.
Between 1969 and 1977, 93 oryx were released on White Sands Missile Range. There are now about 3000 animals in residence. Annual hunts for the oryx began in 1974 on the Missile Range. Oryx can weigh up to 450 pounds. They stand 47 inches at the shoulder. Both males and females have horns that average 34 inches long. Their brown coloring with distinctive black and white markings allows them to hide among desert shrubs.
Why is the oryx of concern at White Sands National Monument?
Because the African oryx is not native to this country, the National Park Service is concerned about how this animal affects the native plants and animals of White Sands National Monument. The National Park Service has fenced the park boundary to prevent the oryx from entering the monument. During the fencing process a number of oryx that were within the monument became contained within the boundary fence. The National Park Service is in the process of removing oryx from within the monument boundaries.
Why are the oryx so successful?
Oryx are specially adapted to desert life. They can go an indefinite period without drinking water. In Africa they feed on grasses, forbs, and melons. Here in the Tularosa basin, they eat desert grasses, yucca, buffalo gourds, mesquite bean pods, and tumbleweeds.
In their natural habitat in Africa, lions and other native predators control oryx population, and only 10% of oryx calves reach the age of one year. Here in New Mexico, predators such as coyotes and mountain lions are not effective at controlling oryx at a stable population. Hunting outside the National Monument provides this function but, as in most National Parks, hunting is not permitted within White Sands National Monument.
Last Updated: 3-15-02