The gregarious Oryx are desert-roaming antelope and can go three months without drinking water. They are capable of extracting moisture from succulent plants, which makes the Karoo a perfect haven for them. Both the males and the females have horns, which they use to protect themselves from predators – this chiefly being lions. They have a very clever technique to protect themselves, in which they will employ the trick of "playing dead". Through this ruse the predator will approach, whereupon the Oryx will jump up and kill it with its horns.
The name "gemsbok" in English is derived from Afrikaans gemsbok, which itself is derived from the Dutch name of the male chamois, gemsbok. Although there are some superficial similarities in appearance (especially in the facial pattern), the chamois and the oryx are not closely related. The usual pronunciation in English is /ˈɡɛmzbɒk/.
Gemsbok are light brownish-grey to tan in colour, with lighter patches toward the bottom rear of the rump. Their tails are long and black in colour. A blackish stripe extends from the chin down the lower edge of the neck, through the juncture of the shoulder and leg along the lower flank of each side to the blackish section of the rear leg. They have muscular necks and shoulders and their legs have white 'socks' with a black patch on the front of both the front legs and both genders have long straight horns. Comparably, the East African Oryx lacks a dark patch at the base of the tail, has less blackish on the legs (none on the hindlegs), and less blackish on the lower flanks.
Gemsbok are the largest species in the Oryx genus. They stand about 1.2 m (3.9 ft) at the shoulder. The body length can vary from 190 to 240 cm (75 to 94 in) and the tail measures 45 to 90 cm (18 to 35 in). Male Gemsbok can weigh between 220–300 kg (490–660 lb) while females weigh 100–210 kg (220–460 lb).
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