The Arabian Oryx - the original unicorn?

In the course of evolution the white oryx has perfectly adapted to its habitat, similar to the dromedary. The fur is white in summer, with even the black markings on head and legs fading to light brown. In glaring sunlight the oryx is virtually invisible in the shimmering heat.

Arabian Oryx

The Orient has always been an unbeatable source of fairy tales and legends. One of the most impressive creatures of fable in these tales is the unicorn. This brilliant white cross between a horse and an antelope with its long, spiral-twisted horn was held in the West to be the embodiment of nobility, wisdom, beauty, purity and chastity as well as the impetuous instinct for freedom.

Next to the narwhal which, with its long, twisted tusk, may well have delivered the idea for the horn, there is another possible model which up until a few years ago lived in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula, the white oryx (Oryx leucoryx).

At the time of Aristotle (4th century BC) it was customary in Egypt to bind the horns together of young Oryx antelopes which had been caught: These would then grow together into a single horn – the source of many legends.

In 1972 the last six wild white Oryx antelopes in the whole world were traced in the centre of Oman. Three of them were caught and sold, the other three ended up in the cooking-pot. Two years later, Sultan Qaboos drove on the idea to renaturalise the Arabian Oryx in the place from where it was last driven out. Today the Yaluni Sanctuary for Oryx Antelopes is recognised as a unique ecosystem.

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