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Oryx Die at National Zoo

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has experienced the deaths of two scimitar-horned oryx, a female at the Rock Creek campus and a male at the Conservation and Research Center (CRC) in Front Royal, Va. 

On October 14, a 16-year-old male oryx died at CRC. This animal was in the process of being anesthetized for a routine reproductive assessment when it went into cardio-respiratory arrest. Efforts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. The preliminary necropsy did not determine the cause of death.

A 17-year-old female oryx died at the Zoo’s Rock Creek campus on October 24. Two days prior, the animal underwent a regularly scheduled health assessment under anesthesia.  The exam proceeded normally; however during her recovery, she appeared more agitated and excited than usual. She was closely monitored, but the next day, she had difficulty using her hind legs. During a follow up examination to treat her condition, the oryx died. The preliminary necropsy results suggest a metabolic syndrome termed “exertional myopathy” which can be related to multiple causes including over-exertion and/or hyper-excitability.

Now extinct in the wild, scimitar-horned oryx once lived in northern African countries of Egypt, Senegal, and Chad with a life-span of about 20 years. They are exquisitely adapted for survival in extremely harsh desert conditions. These animals are mostly white with reddish brown necks and distinct facial markings with a long, dark, tufted tail. Their white coat helps reflect the heat of the desert while their body reacts instinctively when having to cope with a shortage of water. Incredibly, they are able to raise their body temperature by several degrees, up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, to conserve water by avoiding sweating. The Zoo has one oryx on exhibit and a herd of 13 at CRC.