Oryx is a genus consisting of four large antelope species called oryxes. Three of them are native to arid parts of Africa, and the fourth to the Arabian Peninsula. Their fur is pale with contrasting dark markings in the face and on the legs, and their long horns are almost straight. The exception is the scimitar oryx, which lacks dark markings on the legs, only has faint dark markings on the head, has an ochre neck, and horns that are clearly decurved.
The Arabian oryx was only saved from extinction through a captive breeding program and reintroduction to the wild. The scimitar oryx, which is now listed as Extinct in the Wild, also relies on a captive breeding program for its survival. Small populations of several oryx species, such as the scimitar oryx, exist in Texas and New Mexico (USA) in wild game ranches. Gemsboks were released at the White Sands Missile Range and have become an invasive species of concern at the adjacent White Sands National Monument.
The term "oryx" comes from the Greek word Ὂρυξ, óryx, for a type of antelope. The Greek plural form is óryges, although oryxes has been established in English. Herodotus mentions a type of gazelle in Libya called "Orus", probably related to the verb ¨oruttoo" or "orussoo", meaning "to dig". White oryxes are known to dig holes in the sand for the sake of coolness.
The Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx, Arabic: المها), the smallest species, became extinct in the wild in 1972 from the Arabian Peninsula. It was reintroduced in 1982 in Oman, but poaching has reduced their numbers there. One of the largest populations of Arabian oryx exists on Sir Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates. Additional populations have been reintroduced in Qatar, Bahrain, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. As of 2011, the total wild population is over 1000, and 6000–7000 are being held in captivity. In 2011, the IUCN downgraded its threat category from Extinct in the Wild to Vulnerable, the first species to have changed back this way.
The scimitar oryx, also called scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), of North Africa, is now listed as possibly extinct in the wild. However, unconfirmed surviving populations have been reported in central Niger and Chad, and a semiwild population currently inhabiting a fenced nature reserve in Tunisia is being expanded for reintroduction to the wild in that country. Several thousand are held in captivity around the world.