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Oryx: armed and dangerous

The oryx or gemsbok, Oryx gazella, is a sizeable antelope native to Africa. Thanks to a famous nitwit, we have a growing population of these in south central New Mexico.

The nitwit here is the late Dr. Frank C. Hibben, a notable and notorious archaeologist, long on the faculty of the University of New Mexico. See the link for Wikipedia's article on the life and purportedly fraudulent times of this famous nitwit, who was also an avid big-game hunter, and chairman of the New Mexico State Game and Fish Commission from 1961–1971.

It was Hibben's idea to introduce oryx into New Mexico, ostensibly to give him some fun hunting without having to fly to Africa. The White Sands Missile Range, which occupies a huge area in south central New Mexico, was the point of introduction of the initial 93 animals around 1969-1977. Since then, they have multiplied to a population of several thousand. They have been seen well outside the missile range, wandering up to U.S. highway 380 and even up to U.S. 60, and west to the Rio Grande and perhaps beyond.

A very important point about these animals is that they are very cranky and well-armed. Those long, pointy, ridged horns are dangerous weapons. Recently a friend of mine told of an oryx that had been sighted with something stuck on its antlers—a coyote carcass.

There is some debate about whether they have any natural predators. Obviously coyotes are no match for them, even in numbers. My friend John Hubbard, formerly of NM Game & Fish, says mountain lions will take down oryx, but it would not be easy.

Another secondhand story demonstrates the oryx's natural crankiness. One fine day a certain employee was driving around some of the closed missile range roads in a Jeep, one of the old hardtops. His route took him through a gate that was blocked on that occasion by a small herd of oryx. He tried and tried to get them to move so he could go through the gate, but they just stared back defiantly. He honked. He waved. He flashed the lights. He did all three at once. No reaction.

With great care he inched forward, hoping that the animals would move. No reaction. Finally in desperation he nudged one of the bucks, ever so slightly.

The buck immediately trotted off about forty yards, lowered his head and charged.

When the buck hit the door of the Jeep, the horns went all the way through it. Fortunately, the driver had leaped into the passenger seat, so he didn't get impaled. The oryx, however, was stuck. It was some time before another person happened by and went for help.

What would a Shipman story be without a culinary angle? At a summer solstice potluck a few years ago, one of the dishes was green chile stew with two game meats: ground elk, and nice thick cubes of oryx. I am pleased to report that it was tender and delicious and tasted not one iota like chicken.


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John W. Shipman, john@nmt.edu
Last updated: 2009/07/18 18:20:34
URL: http://www.nmt.edu/~shipman/write/nature/oryx.html